Food Bank Still Struggling To Fight Hunger After Budget Cuts

Although the number of New Yorkers unable to afford adequate food dropped slightly in the last year, hunger is still a huge problem for people all over New York City, according to a report released last Monday by the Food Bank For New York City.

“The crisis is hunger, plain and simple,” said Margarette Purvis, president of Food Bank For New York City. The group’s fourth annual hunger report says food assistance budget cuts in 2013 are a major source of the problem.

Food Bank For New York City works with more than 1,000 charities and organizations around the city to provide food to those who need it. The organization, which has been operating for more than 30 years, claims that it provides more than 64 million meals a year for the one in five New Yorkers who are currently relying on its services to survive.

In 2013, according to the report, 47 million Americans –– including 1.8 million New Yorkers –– were pushed off what experts call “the hunger cliff” after significant budget cuts in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

Food Bank has various programs to help low-income New Yorkers, including food stamps and emergency food, nutritional education services and helping develop policy and conduct research to inform government decisions. The food stamps program is funded and connected with various food organizations around the city to provide emergency food through soup kitchens and food pantries.

Last month, Food Bank surveyed all its partner emergency food organizations to learn more about the current demand for services. The organization found that the average New Yorker on food stamps receives $18 less in their food subsidies than they received before the cuts in 2013.

“Emergency food providers are continuing to see more visitor traffic,” said Purvis. “Ninety percent of food pantries and soup kitchens surveyed recorded an increase in the number of visitors this September.”

IMG_3079Margarette Purvis talks about the state of hunger in New York City (The Ink/Jessica Cartwright)

Food Bank For New York City is one of the largest food banks in the country. The group’s leaders said they have formed strong partnerships with local and state leaders in the past year to implement programs to combat hunger, like the extra allotment of funding for emergency food the group received this year.

The $2.1 million in federal dollars helped but were only one-time allocations, Food Bank officials said. Without a constant long-term increase in funding to food stamps and emergency food programs, the hunger crisis in the city could be in much more trouble.

“Every community in New York City, whatever borough you’re in, has a meal gap,” said Stephen Levin, the City Council representative for District 33 in Brooklyn, where many emergency food services are located. “Whether it’s the richest community or the poorest community.”

Representatives from soup kitchens and food pantries say they are also worried about how to control the population that needs these food assistance programs to survive. They are dealing with line control issues and an increase in people using their services. With rising rents and the increase expense of living in this city, people from all different backgrounds need the help of these emergency food organizations, advocates said.

“People are operating on old perceptions of what hunger looks like,” said Triada Stampas, the Food Bank’s vice president for research and public affairs.

Alexander Rapaport, the executive director of Masbia, a soup kitchen with locations in Brooklyn and Queens, said that his organization is struggling with new issues like crowd control, with lines around the corner as demand increases. Staff to control the lines would take money away from food.

Rapaport said that there is a change in the people who need emergency food now. Gone are the days when soup kitchens were only crowded with homeless people; they are now filled with working families that have to pay rent this month instead of being able to buy food.

“You see them in the streets smiling and you’re never going to know that they’re skipping a meal, these people we also want to help,” he said.

Swami Durga Das, executive director of The River Fund New York, a food pantry based in Richmond Hill, Queens, said that large numbers of people receiving food from his organization are now women and children who have left homes due to domestic violence.

“It even makes me want to cry,” said Durga Das. “We should be shocked that this is happening in our city.”

The setting for the report’s release was The Brooklyn Historical Society, which just opened a photo exhibit called ‘Hidden In Plain Sight, Hunger in New York City,” reinforcing the message.

The exhibit, by photographer Joey O’Loughlin, echoed the point that people needing assistance are everyday New Yorkers who struggle daily just trying to keep up.

“Rarely do we have the opportunity to dig deep into an issue such as this,” said Deborah Schwartz, the president of the Brooklyn Historical Society.

IMG_3090The “Hidden In Plain Sight, Hunger in New York City” exhibit (The Ink/Jessica Cartwright)