BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
by Ling Zeng
As a graduate accounting student, I'd been thinking of how I could contribute my knowledge and skills in order to give back to the community. Food Bank For New York City's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offered me the perfect opportunity. However, it was not easy for an international student like me, who wasn't familiar with the U.S. tax system, to get the tax preparation certification. Fortunately, the veteran instructors at Food Bank were really patient and friendly with their teaching methods. And I'm proud to say that I did pass the exam and earned my certification.
Through Food Bank's VITA program I gained hands-on experience interacting with clients. Working one-on-one with people and helping them get all the refunds to which they're entitled is my passion. It's what I want to do in my future career. One of the things I enjoyed most as a VITA volunteer was seeing the smiles come across clients' faces when they realized how much money they were getting back from their tax returns. The sense of honor I felt assisting people who really need help can never be exaggerated.
One thing that I noticed was that many low-income families who need tax assistance are non-English speaking. That language barrier can be a challenge for both the volunteer and the client. Thankfully Food Bank's VITA program does have bilingual volunteers. But they can always use more. So I encourage multilingual speakers to join this important program and help these families in need. It's a wonderful experience.
Ling Zeng is an international graduate student at St John's University, a Food Bank For New York City VITA partner.
By Sheree Quiles
We often get so busy with the daily demands of work and life that we sometimes forget the big impact small gestures can make. But when a recent gas explosion on East 116th Street and Park Avenue caused two buildings to collapse, I was quickly reminded.
From the start, The Community Kitchen was alert to our clients' and community's needs. Immediately after the explosion, our staff began calling our registered local seniors to find out if they'd been impacted by the blast and to offer help if needed. Our director, Daryl Foriest, rushed to the Salvation Army as well to offer assistance and also delivered emergency pantry bags to the local public school. Four children affected by the explosion are students there. In a time of displacement, it's a blessing for their families not to have to worry about where the next meal will come from.
One of Food Bank's partners, Emblem Health, contacted me and arranged to send over a social worker to offer counseling to our clients. Antonio Ocasio arrived the next day and quietly sat with some of our seniors. His presence seemed to be reassuring. Although none of our senior clients were directly impacted by the explosion, many live in the neighborhood and have been emotionally affected by what happened. It's impossible not to be. That day was devastating, and our seniors are constantly reminded of the tragedy as they go about their daily lives.
A few days after the explosion, as I greeted new guests during our senior program's breakfast, a man named Mr. Bishop took my hands. He told me how grateful he felt when he received a reassuring phone call from us. He said the staff was warm, and made him feel special. Mr. Bishop's words made me pause, take a deep breath and gently squeeze his hands. I'm glad that our small gestures of caring had such a huge impact on him and all of our clients.
Sheree Quiles is the Administrative Manager at Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry of West Harlem.
by Marlo Dublin
Too often brown rice gets a bad rap. This healthy staple is tasty and nutritious, but it's one item that I've noticed is slow to move from food pantry shelves. Since March is National Nutrition Month, here's a primer on the perfect side dish.
"Are brown and white rice the same?"
The 411: Brown rice is considered a whole cereal grain, and is harvested from a type of grass. During harvest, its husk is removed, leaving it with a complete structure that includes a germ, bran and endosperm. When these structures are removed during processing, the result is white rice.
"Is brown rice really healthier than white rice?"
The 411: Yes! Brown rice is a 100% whole grain and packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, including fiber, protein and iron. Whole grains can help reduce your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and help in weight maintenance. Brown rice is also low in fat, calories and sodium, and is gluten, trans-fat and cholesterol free.
"I don't have time to cook brown rice; it takes forever, and comes out mushy or too hard!"
The 411: Water and timing affect the texture of cooked brown rice. It will likely come out mushy if you cook it in too much water for too long, or too hard if you don't cook it in enough water for enough time. Use these easy cooking methods, both of which serve 3-4 people, for the best results:
Bring 2½ cups water to a boil and stir in 1 cup of brown rice. Then, cover your pan and reduce heat to simmer rice for about 40 minutes. When most of the water has been absorbed by rice, turn the heat off and finish steam cooking rice in the pot with the lid on. In 5-10 minutes, the rice will be cooked and fluffy when stirred.
1100 Watt microwave:
Combine 1 cup of brown rice and 3 cups of water in a 2½-quart microwave-safe dish. Microwave uncovered on high heat for 10 minutes. Reduce power to 50% and continue microwaving rice uncovered for 20 minutes. Allow rice to sit for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork and serve.
"Brown rice is expensive!"
The 411: Research shows that a two-pound bag of long grain white rice can cost $2.69, while the same size bag of long grain brown rice can cost $2.79. For ten cents more, opting to buy brown rice can improve the nutritional quality of our meals.
"My family doesn't like brown rice. They say it tastes funny."
The 411: Combine cooked brown rice with white rice as a way to get used to its wholesome and nutty texture. Over time, add more brown rice in place of the white rice until you are eating it on its own! Or, stir in a splash of coconut milk towards the end of the cooking time to add a tropical flavor to the rice.
Marlo Dublin is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.
Need in New York City's Jewish community has grown over the years and Food Bank's network of nearly 40 Kosher agencies has stepped up to ensure that observant families have enough to eat. Together, we distributed 11.5 million Kosher meals last year.
With more than half a million Jewish New Yorkers living in or at the edges of poverty, the high cost of kosher foods makes it hard for many families to keep food on the table. Nathan Krasnovsky, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP), one of Food Bank's member agencies, sees these struggles every day. "If people who keep kosher don't have food, they don't eat," he says.
That hard truth was even more evident after Hurricane Sandy, especially in the community JCCRP serves. "There is just one kosher supermarket in Far Rockaway, but it was forced to close because of damage from the storm," explains Krasnovsky. "It was a big deal because people couldn't get kosher food elsewhere." Fortunately, with deliveries of shelf stable kosher food from Food Bank, JCCRP was able to fulfill that need for observant residents.
Like other Food Bank charities across the city, JCCRP saw an increase in demand in the aftermath of Sandy that has remained high more than a year after the storm. "Many people who were 'making it' before the hurricane, aren't making it anymore," says Krasnovsky. "They are still trying to get back on their feet today." The uptick in clientele means that JCCRP and other agencies serving the Jewish Community will have more people coming to them this Passover season. But Food Bank and its network will be there to make sure that our Jewish neighbors have a plentiful Passover table.
If you'd like to help provide Kosher for Passover meals to struggling Jewish families in New York City, please visit foodbanknyc.org/Passover.
by Chris Bean
As an emergency food provider in the Bronx, Part of the Solution (POTS) was dreading the impact of the SNAP reductions in the Farm Bill. The individuals and families we serve were already struggling from the 2013 cuts, and another round would be devastating to sustain. It's nearly impossible for low-income families to maintain healthy eating practices without food stamps. We are so thankful that Governor Cuomo recently stepped in to ensure that struggling New Yorkers won't find their cupboards bare and their plates empty.
By preserving $457 million in SNAP benefits, the Governor has negated the second-wave of SNAP reductions and helped to ensure that low-income New Yorkers, including children, veterans and senior citizens, receive the essential nutrition assistance they need to maintain healthful lives. When our struggling families don't have to worry about putting food on the table they are relieved of an immense burden and are better able to focus on their education, health, employment and other areas of critical importance.
We are so thankful that our mission of treating low-income people with dignity and respect is being reflected in our state government. Governor Cuomo has garnered state resources and allocated them to those who are, arguably, least capable of shouldering the burden of federal cuts. We at POTS could not be more appreciative of his support.
Chris Bean is the Executive Director of Part of the Solution (POTS) in the Bronx, a member of Food Bank For New York City's network.
Today is the perfect day to get in more "greens." Celebrate the luck of the Irish by adding fruit to a traditional St. Patty's Day favorite. Try this tasty--and healthy--cabbage side dish from our JSY nutritionists.
Cabbage Apple Slaw
- 4 cups finely chopped cabbage
- 2 apples, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 ½ tablespoons low fat mayonnaise
- ½ cup low fat sour cream
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, combine cabbage, apple and bell pepper.
- In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, brown sugar and lemon juice.
- Add mayonnaise mixture to large bowl (cabbage mixture). Mix well.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Can be served immediately or covered and chilled before serving.
- Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes 6 servings.
By Margarette Purvis
1st Call: 7am. 4th Call: 8am. Race downstairs to give out last business card. Race upstairs to make another call. Start edits on presentations. Get interrupted seven times with more calls, IM's, an email littered with silliness from someone who should know better and then back to edits. A quick read of what's before me, followed by a long pause. What I'm reading doesn't feel like me or what I want to say. Something is off. I get up. I open the curtains. There is sunshine. I am surprised. The weather man said that my temporary office in Florida would see rain every day of LEI's Lean Summit. The job the humidity is doing on my hair says he's right. My eyeballs confirm he's wrong. I grab my sneakers and RUN to the door, before what I see morphs into a cruel mirage. I can't remember my last walk in sunny, WARM weather. With every step I take I feel better. I think about the last couple of weeks. Anxiety over the Farm Bill was more taxing than I cared to admit or even truly recognized. I decide to release that and focus on how awesome I felt when the governor's office called about how he would strategically use $6 million to save $457 million in SNAP benefits for the people we serve. In that moment I noticed I had been holding my breath. It was nice to finally enjoy taking in NEW oxygen.
With every step in an unfamiliar community, good feelings are returning. I start reminding myself that not everything was bad in the past few weeks. I think about the great support my team and I enjoyed from so many unlikely places. I think of groups not typically defined as hunger advocates proving themselves to be the DEFINITION of authentic partners, leaders even...some of the best a cause could have. I think of how some of my new friends have helped me see old stresses with reNEWed eyes. I think about supporters who have used their access on behalf of New Yorkers they will never meet, without any prodding, all because it was simply the right thing to do!
Every day at Food Bank we face a new normal. The demands and requirements to meet the needs of the New Yorkers we serve become greater. The leadership our mission requires can't be faked, dialed in or assumed. The struggle to afford food is owned by far too many New Yorkers. Stacking our team with the right leaders and partners is not a preference but a requirement. Not because one CEO says so or five people disagree, but because 1.5 million New Yorkers and the city they call home DESERVE a different approach to ending hunger. When having a job (or two) is no longer the answer to staving off hunger, concerned people must answer the universal urging to ensure we're asking the right question. Yesterday's effort and response are both out of touch and out of order for those seeking to be called leader IN THIS SPACE.
As I cross the street to return to my hotel, it hits me. My pace quickens as I think, "Get it together, sister. You're here for a reason!" We've spent the last year working on a strategy to reduce the meal gap. In it, we said, leadership would be key and now we have a governor who lead in the way we needed, and we've been gifted with a national stage to describe our experience with a best in class corporate partner. At this point, my pace is bordering on a skip as I remembered the major lesson from the past few weeks. I'm not wrong to expect passion and commitment from those receiving mail in our shared trenches. Who knows? Maybe as I'm celebrating and touting the corporate culture and employees of Toyota and the gift that Kaizen has been to Food Bank's network, there could be a corporate leader in the audience who needs to hear our story and better understand that by coupling humility with skillsets, an interested person can actually be HELPFUL and viewed as an ACTUAL leader...not just an assigned one.
As my hotel gets closer my feelings and message become clearer. A new normal, no matter how taxing doesn't have to be all bad. For every challenge, there is an opportunity for a new leader, friend or supporter to make themselves known. Just as the sun I enjoyed was not expected, one never knows the blessing waiting around the next corner. I'm grateful for the chance to enjoy a walk in OUR walk and will keep the faith needed for the next steps.
Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez
By Samantha Katel (second row, far left)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" In honor of MLK Day, I went with my mother to Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem to make lunch for children who are hungry. Not just any children--kids who are homeless or live in shelters and can't afford to buy food or necessities. The director of the Community Kitchen told all of us volunteers that it's especially hard for them during the winter. He told us about a woman and baby that he saw walking outside in the cold with no place to go.
The volunteers were given bright orange MLK "Weekend of Service" T-shirts, buttons and wristbands, as well as plastic gloves and hair nets for cleanliness. Then we were put to work, assembly line-style, packing lunch bags. Half of us made sandwiches; the other half made chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. My job was to drop little balls of batter onto about 40 trays before they were put into the ovens. I was careful not to eat any of the finished cookies. It was tempting because they smelled so delicious, but I didn't want to take any away from the homeless kids. The lunch bags included a sandwich, potato chips and a juice box. Messages of love and luck were written in markers by a group of girl scouts who came up from Brooklyn.
There was one special moment that I'll never forget. As I was scooping the cookies into baggies, I looked up to see our new mayor, Bill de Blasio! He thanked us for our service, spoke to the TV cameras that were there, and then rolled up his sleeves to help us with the lunches. The mayor spoke about how we should help others, not just one day a year, but every day. It was really fun and a great feeling to know that I was helping people who are in need and have nowhere else to turn. It was a perfect way to honor Reverend King.
Samantha Katel, 12, is a seventh-grader at the Mandell School in Manhattan.
By Heather McGreevy
When I joined Food Bank, I knew I'd have the opportunity to help repack at our Warehouse, prep meals at our Community Kitchen & Food Pantry, and lend a hand at some of our member agencies throughout the city. But one thing I never expected to do was to serve as a taste tester.
During the winter months, pureed pumpkin is a hot ticket at food pantries. So it's no surprise that our member charities would offer their clients a recipe for it, specifically pumpkin pudding. But when we learned that the sugar content for the pudding recipe was too high, our nutrition team was tasked with coming up with a healthier alternative. The catch? The new recipe needed to have a quick prep time and clients had to be able to make it with ingredients available at a pantry. Jennifer Horan, a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables nutritionist at Food Bank, had not one, but three recipes up her sleeve.
In her quest to find a nutritious way to use pumpkin puree, Jennifer had come up with three different pumpkin soups. She invited me and a few other Food Bankers for a taste test. We would give each version a try and vote on our favorite. My first thought: How different can pumpkin soups be? Quite different, it turns out--and delicious. After the first spoonful I was blown away. I had met the pumpkin soup-making queen! Jennifer made three incredible soups, each with a different flavor profile. Curried pumpkin soup? Hand it over! Pumpkin soup spiced with cumin? Give me more! Creamy pumpkin soup with a hint of cinnamon? Call me a convert! Jennifer wowed us with her ability to take simple, low-cost ingredients and turn them into something delicious and nutritious.
Did I think I'd wind up as a soup taster when I came to work at Food Bank? No way. Am I glad I got to experience firsthand one of the best things we do at Food Bank--bring good, healthy food to New Yorkers in need? Absolutely!
Want to taste the winner for yourself? Here's the recipe we voted #1:
Creamy Pumpkin Soup with a Hint of Cinnamon
*If using nonfat dried milk (NFDM), mix 1 1/2 cups water with 1/2 cup NFDM and add to recipe.
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 chopped garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
- 1 ½ cups low-fat milk*
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- In a large pot, heat ¼ cup chicken broth over medium heat.
- Add onions, garlic and brown sugar. Cook until soft, stirring often.
- Add the rest of the broth, ½ cup water, salt and pepper. Turn up heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring often.
- Turn down heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.
- Stir in pumpkin, milk and cinnamon. Cook for 5 more minutes.
- Serve and enjoy!
Makes 4 servings.
Heather McGreevy is the Volunteer Engagement Manager at Food Bank For New York City.
by Alyssa Herman
Last week I experienced a moment that shook me to my core. In preparation for a press conference, we arranged a table with the amount of food people can afford with the current allotment of food stamps. There was just one package of chicken. I thought to myself, I feed my kids chicken three times a week. Imagine having only one chicken for the entire month. Then we took away $90 worth of those groceries -- that's how much Americans will lose each month as a result of massive food stamp cuts.
As I helped remove foods one by one from the groceries until we reached the $90 mark, I found myself thinking about the New York City mothers who have to make these hard choices for real. With each item I took from the table, I became more and more emotional. Suddenly I was one of those mothers, and I couldn't imagine having to make such horrible choices on a regular basis. The fresh strawberries were the first item to go. Then I had to take away the clementines. Next, the peanut butter, coffee, olive oil and milk. And finally, that one chicken. By the time we'd completed the display, there was barely any fresh produce on the table. As for protein, we were left with canned beans. How is that supposed to feed a family for an entire month?
Food Bank For New York City has been on the forefront of fighting against cuts to food stamps for months, and during the press conference we released disturbing data about the impact of the cuts.
With kids of my own, I know how important it is for children to have fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, grains and other nutritious foods. I suppose that's why I became so emotional. All I could think about were the mothers who have to decide what foods they're going to sacrifice each month and the children those sacrifices impact the most. Resources affect choices -- I know those moms want to give their kids milk! As emotional as I became, I'm grateful that I took part in setting up the display. Seeing how much people are really losing because of food stamps cuts resonates so much more than 30-second sound bites. That food equals real meals lost, and sometimes people need to see it with their own eyes to get how big of a loss it is for the 1.9 million New Yorkers who rely on food stamps to survive.
Alyssa Herman is the Chief Development Officer at Food Bank For New York City.