Too many hungry people are still seeking help in New York City, according to a report released last week by the Food Bank for New York City.
Nearly 79 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens saw an increase in visitors in the past year, according to the report. Additionally, 49 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens reported that they had run out of food at some point in the past year.
The nonprofit Food Bank, the city’s major hunger-relief organization, presented the finding at its fifth annual Legislative Breakfast held at the Intercontinental New York Barclay Hotel in Midtown.
Triada Stampas, vice president for research and public affairs, presented the findings of this year’s research.
When faced with a food shortage, as many pantries and kitchens did this year, food kitchens either ration or reduce the amount of food they are serving or they turn people away, Stampas said.
This year, 29 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens reported that they had to turn people due to shortages, according to the research.
That’s a slight improvement over 2015, when 36 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens had to turn people away.
Investments in technology initiatives and other projects, such as a new system that allows staffers to input data from the field into a cloud database, have started to pay off, said Margaret Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank.
“As daunting as these numbers are, we’re actually happy to see them because it shows that when we work together we can actually make a difference,” said Purvis.
According to Food Bank, the increase in need over the past three years stems from cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2013. SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, provides food-purchasing assistance to low- and no-income people.
After the SNAP cuts took effect, a “hunger cliff,” a term that Food Bank coined, took hold. Since then, more than 161 million meals have been lost in New York City as well as more than $540 million in benefits, according to Food Bank.
“When the hunger cliff took effect, need spiked across the city,” said Stampas.
The face of the city’s hungriest is also changing, said Maria Citron, executive director of The HopeLine, a Bronx community resource center. It is no longer solely the homeless who come to food pantries, she said, but also working families and older children who have returned to their parent’s homes due to economic difficulties.
And food is not the only thing people are seeking from the pantries. The top item requested after food is diapers, said Citron.
“Our reality today is that we are hitting all cultures,” she said, describing the changing demographic of food pantry visitors. “For most people, this is not just an emergency resource. This is part of people’s lifestyle in order to survive.”
During the breakfast, Purvis spoke of the need to continue fighting for and supporting SNAP.
“Whatever happens in Washington over the next few years, we must do everything we can to protect SNAP,” she said. “Charity cannot take the place of strong anti-hunger policy.”
Rachel Sabella, director of government relations of Food Bank, echoed these sentiments. “SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger,” she said. “All of our efforts are to protect, preserve and grow the program.”
Looking ahead, Sabella said Food Bank’s main goal for 2017 is to focus on building more government support for dealing with hunger.
“We want to make everyone aware that this is an issue – that hunger is in every community,” she said. “Hunger is an invisible problem.”
Sabella also said Food Bank is constantly working with government partners to make sure they have the latest data, research and maps to be successful in the hunger battle.
During the breakfast Purvis was asked by the event’s moderator what her one wish for legislation would be. “Hunger and poverty is illegal in America,” she answered. “It’s as simple as that because it’s solvable.”