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BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog


Walking a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes

by Leonie Oostrom

I was in for a bit of a rough ride when I decided to try the Food Stamp Challenge and live on $31.50 for a week in New York City. I'll be the first to admit that my cooking skills are pretty low-level. As a college student, I've been on an unlimited meal plan in student dorms for two years. The closest I get to cooking in a given week is attempting to wilt spinach on the dining hall panini press.

With my lack of cooking expertise, I turned to Google for advice. I found some affordable recipes that seemed relatively healthy. The only problem: they required a slow cooker, six pans, a variety of spices, not to mention hours of time. I had none of those things, so my menu for the week consisted of oatmeal for breakfast, tomato and mustard sandwiches for lunch, and pasta with a sauce full of frozen vegetables for dinner. Sometimes I made eggs; an apple was a treat. It was difficult planning meals on just $31.50 a week and my culinary creativity seemed to diminish because of it, especially as a vegetarian. Fresh produce is expensive and I couldn't figure out how to work lots of it into my budget.

How would I sum up the week? Hard. By day four I was sick of oatmeal. I felt sluggish from the lack of produce. I gained a few pounds from all the processed carbohydrates I ate to stay full. And when I messed up a meal (which I did often), there was no throwing it out and ordering a pizza; I ate it.

This was all expected. What I didn't expect was the way my mental space was affected. Thoughts of food constantly filled my mind. They say that to understand someone you should walk a mile in his or her shoes. And that's what I did. I walked a mile. Just one mile, and then I stopped. When the week ended I was able to buy the food I'd been craving. People who rely on food stamps to feed themselves and their families don't have this luxury. To really understand their struggles, I would need to run a marathon in their shoes.

After this challenge, I'm filled with such awe for the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who live, week after week, on this budget. Their resilience astounds me and also pains me, because it shouldn't be necessary. We must do more to end hunger in New York City.

Leonie Oostrom, a junior at Harvard, is a summer intern in Food Bank's Government Relations department.

Food Bank and Toyota Team Up for “Meals Per Hour”

By Amy Thompson

After Superstorm Sandy, Food Bank For New York City worked hard to provide food and services to New Yorkers in hard-hit communities who were desperate for our assistance. But as hard as we worked, we knew we could do more. That's when serendipity stepped in. Our partner Toyota came to us wanting to get involved. At first I thought, "What do a car company and a hunger relief organization have in common?" As it turns out, a lot! We both share a passion for helping people.

Over the past few months, we have worked with the Toyota Production System Support center (TSSC) on the "Meals Per Hour" project, a collaboration borne of Food Bank's constant search for innovate ways to get people the food they need. The idea was simple: TSSC would help us apply the manufacturing philosophy Toyota uses to build cars to our food pantries in order to feed hungry New Yorkers faster and more efficiently. For eight weeks, Food Bank provided food to Metro World Child, one of our longtime member agencies, as well as the staff to pack and distribute it into emergency boxes for hungry families in Far Rockaway, a community ravaged by Sandy. TSSC was on hand every step of the way to train us and implement their principles.

In the warehouse, where the food boxes were packed, loaded in the truck, and prepared for distribution, TSSC and Food Bank got busy making changes. They suggested that Metro switch from square boxes to rectangular ones to ensure that each box was filled with less air and more food.  We also implemented an assembly line box-packing system that dramatically reduced packing time. Changes were even made at the point of distribution in the Rockaways, which reduced the amount of time it took volunteers to hand out boxes. What were the specific outcomes of all the TSSC improvements? Watch the Meals Per Hour video and see for yourself! With each viewing of this video, Toyota will donate the cost of one meal to Food Bank For New York City, up to 1 million meals!

I had fun helping with the distribution each week in Far Rockaway, but I also learned more than I was expecting to, and I know others at Food Bank have as well. As a result of this project, Food Bank has already begun to apply TSSC principles to our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem, as well as to some of our member agencies across the five boroughs, with plans to do more. TSSC has also agreed to come back and help us improve the efficiency of our warehouse, which is the largest wholesale food distribution center in the world. It will be quite a job, but I know from firsthand experience that we'll see great results!

Amy Thompson is a Capacity Associate and works on the award-winning TEN program at Food Bank For New York City.

Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

By Laura Mindlin

I knew that living on $1.50 per meal a day would be difficult, but by day three of the Food Stamp Challenge, I was exhausted. It wasn't just because of the small portions of food I'd been eating to avoid hitting day six with nothing left but a half empty jar of peanut butter; making $31.50 in groceries stretch a whole week was tougher than I imagined. My exhaustion instead came from constantly thinking about food.

I consider myself a foodie, so this was not a big change for me, but the nature of my thoughts had changed. On the days leading up to the challenge, I was kept up at night thinking about how I would spend that $31.50. Which foods would last me the whole week? Would I be able to get even a sampling of fruits and vegetables? What would I have to sacrifice? Those first few days I managed to pull together some pretty decent dishes with the foods I bought: pasta, kidney and black beans, tofu (best bang for your buck), peanut butter, brown rice, mango, oatmeal, broccoli/carrot mixture, eggs, chicken drumsticks, tomatoes, cantaloupe, cereal, red pepper, sweet potatoes, and an eggplant.

Despite my naïve expectations, my food-related stressors didn't dissolve when I finally made my purchases. They actually led to some frustration, as well as a few other emotions that I couldn't quite put my finger on. But I kept those feelings inside. I'd sit in a café and watch with wide eyes and outrage as the person next to me threw away half of a perfectly good sandwich.

Other times, I had to explain to friends that I was a little grumpy because I hadn't eaten much that day, and I was exhausted by all of the thoughts circulating in my mind. But then I'd stop and remind myself why I took on this challenge in the first place. Grumpiness? Mental exhaustion? Who was I to use these excuses when there are people living on a food stamp budget week after week, maybe even working two jobs, simply to provide for their family? I knew that by the last day of this challenge I'd likely have gained many new insights--not just about the hardworking New Yorkers who rely on food stamps to get them through difficult times, but also about myself. I'll share more of the lessons I've learned in my next blog.

Laura Mindlin, a sophomore at Skidmore College, is a Government Relations summer intern at Food Bank For New York City.

How Does a Family of Three Survive on a Food Stamp Budget?

by Madison Cowan

That's the question I tried to answer this week. My family and I took Food Bank For New York City's Food Stamp Challenge to stand in support of New Yorkers in need, and hopefully help stop pending cuts to the food stamp program. We lived on a budget of just $31.50 per person for the entire week--that's how much food stamp recipients receive.

This wasn't a massive stretch for someone like me who has experienced the depths of poverty and has personally survived with nothing at all. The difference this time, of course, is that when the week was up so was the hardship of eating on such a miniscule budget. Struggling families don't have that option. For them, the situation is all too real, especially when children are factored in. Kids require so much more nutritionally than $1.50 per meal allows. Families who rely on food stamps to put food on the table live with this reality on a daily basis, and there's no excuse for it in a country of such wealth.

I kicked off the challenge with a trip to Trader Joe's in Brooklyn to buy my groceries for the week. The maximum budget for my family of three: $94.50. I bought fresh fruit and vegetables, free range chicken, vegetarian chorizo, oats, yogurt, almonds, brown eggs, two types of cheese and bread, miso paste, black beans, noodles, peanut butter, jam, two gallons of milk and more. I ended up spending $93. While I was able to purchase nutritious food, not everyone has a proper market with affordable prices in their community. That's one of the things that makes living on a food stamp budget so challenging for many people.

For our first dinner of the challenge, I made spicy sweet potato and vegetable chorizo hash with fried egg. I fancy veg chorizo as it's tasty, inexpensive and good for you (it's made out of soy protein). If you'd like to give this dish a try, here's the recipe:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 ½ sweet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced

5 medium garlic cloves, sliced

2 large spring onions (white parts only), sliced. Reserve tops.

½ vegetarian chorizo sausage

2 tsp Worcester sauce

½ tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Tabasco to taste

3 eggs

Heat olive oil and butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add sweet potatoes and cook halfway (about 3 minutes). Stir in garlic and onions; cook another 2 minutes. Crumble in the chorizo and season with Worcester, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook another 2 minutes, reduce heat and keep warm. Fry eggs sunny-side up. Portion the hash, top with eggs and serve with thinly sliced reserved spring onion tops and Tabasco. Serves 3.

The challenge proved more difficult as the week went on, but we managed to come up with some satisfying dishes within budget, like oatmeal and blueberries drizzled with a touch of maple syrup and a lick of cream, and homemade ramen noodles with soft-boiled egg. We didn't take a "break" for Father's Day either. That day was the same for us as it was for many low-income families: no going for brunch, no toasting with wine or popping out to get ice cream. Just pancakes for breakfast, tuna melts on rye and black bean soup later in the day--and we were grateful for it.

My family and I were committed to seeing this challenge through. It was a way for us to help Food Bank bring awareness to an extremely important issue. And we got it done for those in actual need.

Chef/author Madison Cowan is a member of Food Bank For New York City's culinary council.

A Successful Summer for the Change One Thing Food Truck!

By Justin Crum, Youth Development Manager

Perhaps you saw it on ABC 7 or News 12, or maybe you read about it in the Amsterdam News, AM New York or The New York Times. Word was out over the summer about the Food Bank’s Change One Thing food truck, which was on the streets of New York City for nearly 8 weeks during the summer.

The truck is part of our Change One Thing social marketing campaign, now in its third year. “Change One Thing” is a simple message for teens that emphasizes the ease of making healthy decisions. One small step each day is enough to make a difference. Each year, we’ve tried to cut through the barrage of unhealthy messages aimed at teens in New York, beginning with graffiti murals and radio-sponsored events. This summer, we decided to take another step, bringing an interactive message to teens where they hang out: pools, parks and summer events. The truck distributes small food items to taste, including low-calorie fruit pops, fresh fruit and water, as well as recipe books. It also houses a video game, designed specifically for this campaign. The game, a mix of nutrition-related trivia and quick food decisions, was a hit at all of our stops this summer, especially amongst those that won prizes for their skills!

I was always excited to visit the truck. We’re so used to seeing questionable representations of teens on the media, it’s nice to see real NYC teens gathered and engaged around something positive. The first day the truck was out in the city this year was in Brownsville, at the Betsy Head pool. As I showed up on the elevated 3 train, I was able to see a crowd gathering in front of the truck. Walking from the station to the park, I saw a steady stream of kids and teens walking away from the park with big smiles on their faces, and healthy snacks in hand. Our first day was an unmitigated success. Maybe you saw the truck at a community event, park or pool over the summer and were convinced to Change One Thing!

11 Million Emergency Meals Already Lost Due to Federal Cuts!

Help Save Critical Food Assistance In NYC

by Triada Stampas

Federal spending cuts have slashed the single biggest source of emergency food in New York City. This year alone, food pantries and soup kitchens across the five boroughs lost a staggering 11 million meals, depriving those residents in most desperate need. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) has been the mainstay of New York City’s emergency food network, constituting nearly half of the food that is distributed to low-income New Yorkers in past years. Food pantries and soup kitchens have told us they used to plan their meals around the food available in TEFAP; right now, their shelves are nearly bare.

Facing a shortfall of 11 million meals, emergency food providers are being forced to stretch resources and reduce services at a time of unprecedented need.
Nearly 3 million New York City residents have difficulty affording food. Households with children, the unemployed and low-income New Yorkers are struggling the most. Those 11 million meals could have gone to children, seniors and others in need – instead, food pantries and soup kitchens are coping with unprecedented need while their main source of food has dwindled.

Emergency food cuts have stricken communities in all five boroughs, with losses averaging 37 percent.

  • Bronx: 2.2 million meals lost
  • Brooklyn: 3.8 million meals lost
  • Manhattan: 1.4 million meals lost
  • Queens: 3.0 million meals lost
  • Staten Island: 0.4 million meals lost

You can help. There are two things you can do to help us out of this crisis:

Advocate. The Farm Bill, our nation’s key anti-hunger legislation, is up for renewal this year. Critical food resources like TEFAP and the food stamp program (SNAP) are at stake. Contact your representatives in Washington and tell them to help keep food on the table for our neighbors in need.

Donate. The long-term relief needed from the Farm Bill will take months or longer to materialize. Your donations will provide immediate help for those at risk of going hungry.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

Increased Participation in Summer Meals Proves it Takes a Village

by Roxanne Henry

The Food Resource Action Center (FRAC) recently reported that in 2011 participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP, also known as Summer Meals) was down, nationally, compared to previous years. Summer Meals provides universal breakfast and lunch to all children age 18 and under at schools and other sites in low-income neighborhoods during the summer. Although nationally there was a decrease in participation in the program, New York City saw a 3% increase. Part of this increase may be attributed to a city-wide collaboration where governmental agencies, community-based organizations and hunger advocates, including the Food Bank For New York City, implemented a more grassroots approach by canvassing low-income neighborhoods with localized Summer Meals outreach materials.

Summer Food Service Program
Summer Meals provides universal breakfast and lunch to all children age 18 and under at schools and other sites in low-income neighborhoods during the summer.
In addition to its annual outreach initiatives around Summer Meals (including recruiting member agencies to become distribution sites and on-the-ground outreach) last year, for the first time, the Food Bank For New York City distributed over 100,000 flyers to families with children throughout the city through our approximately 1,000 member agencies.

Although there was an increase in participation in the program, the numbers are still relatively low; participation increased to only 28% last year. This means that we have a long way to go. This year Food Bank is expanding its Summer Meals efforts and continues to work with the larger city-wide initiative to further increase participation in the program.

Send a Message to Support Ending Finger Imaging for Food Stamps!

by Triada Stampas

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State will be putting an end to finger imaging for the Food Stamp Program (also known as SNAP). Abandoned by most other states in favor of more cost-effective and less stigmatizing fraud detection methods, finger imaging for food stamps currently exists only in New York and Arizona. In anticipation of dropping the finger imaging requirement, New York State has already put a new system in place that analyzes client data to detect duplicate cases and protect the integrity of the Food Stamp Program.

Not only does finger imaging add a layer of shame and stigma to the application process, it adds to the time and inconvenience applicants must endure to receive needed food assistance. In addition, finger imaging has been another step in the process where errors can deny applicants the benefits to which they are entitled. A recent report by the Empire Justice Center found 97 percent of fair hearing cases related to finger imaging were resolved in favor of the applicants – that's right: fair hearings upheld denial of benefits in only three percent of cases where households allegedly failed to comply with finger imaging requirements.

The state's proposed regulation to end finger imaging has been released, and as with any proposed change in regulations, New Yorkers can submit their opinions to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (the state agency that administers the Food Stamp Program) during the open public comment period. Comments in favor of ending finger imaging will create a public record of the broad support that exists for making this change. The deadline for comments is July 16, 2012.

Take Action Today : Send a message today in support of ending finger imaging!

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

A Chance to Save Food Stamps

by Triada Stampas

This week, the Senate starts debate on the Farm Bill, the legislation that sets policy and funding for the key programs – food stamps (SNAP) and emergency food (TEFAP) – that make up much of our nation's safety net against hunger. The Senate bill currently under consideration will cut $4.5 billion in SNAP benefits – making it even harder for vulnerable children, seniors and families to keep food on the table – unless an amendment by New York's own Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is passed.

SNAP is our nation's first line of defense against hunger. More than 46 million Americans struggling to get by – including 1.8 million New York City residents – rely on SNAP to keep food on the table. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the $4.5 billion cut to SNAP will result in a loss, on average, of $90 in monthly benefits for every affected household – a significant drop in any family's food budget. Approximately 190,000 households in New York City would see a reduction in SNAP benefits as a result of this cut. Cutting SNAP doesn't just hurt the families who lose benefits – it hurts businesses and communities. The Center for American Progress estimates that more than 13,000 jobs are lost for every $1 billion cut from SNAP – meaning this $4.5 billion cut will cost more than 60,000 jobs.

Emergency food is our last line of defense against hunger. The Farm Bill the Senate is currently considering does increase funding for TEFAP by $150 million over ten years, and empowers the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make additional purchases of food at times of high need. However, TEFAP has lost $173 million in the past year alone, and at a time when food pantries and soup kitchens are already struggling to meet unprecedented need in this city, our emergency food network is ill equipped to address the additional demand that drastically reducing SNAP benefits for 190,000 low-income families will create.

The Farm Bill, which is renewed every five years, represents our nation's most significant investment to prevent hunger. It is our opportunity to protect and strengthen the safety net that keeps food on the table for millions of Americans. New York's Senators are doing their part – Senator Gillibrand's amendment would eliminate the $4.5 billion SNAP cut, and Senator Charles Schumer has given his support as a co-sponsor. The Gillibrand amendment provides a critical opportunity for Senators to protect this safety net and show their commitment to anti-hunger priorities – a strong show of support will send the message that taking vital food resources from the most vulnerable among us is not an acceptable or responsible way to achieve budget cuts.

If you live outside of New York State, please contact your Senators today to ask them to support Senator Gillibrand's amendment – and stay tuned here for developments as the Farm Bill makes its way through negotiations.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

Governor Cuomo Ends Finger Imaging for Food Stamps

by Triada Stampas

Making good on his pledge to work to ensure that no child in New York goes hungry , Governor Cuomo yesterday announced that New York State will be putting an end to finger imaging for the Food Stamp Program (also known as SNAP). A practice abandoned by most other states in favor of more cost-effective and less stigmatizing fraud detection methods, finger imaging for food stamps currently exists only in New York and Arizona.

As the Food Bank For New York City helps more than 40,000 New Yorkers with the complicated food stamp application process every year, we have seen our share of seniors, working parents and young adults frustrated and humiliated by having to be finger-imaged just to access needed food assistance. For many food stamp applicants, finger imaging has added a layer of shame and stigma to an already difficult experience.

Our President and CEO Margarette Purvis voiced our position best:

"We enthusiastically applaud Governor Cuomo for ending a practice that for too long has kept eligible low-income New Yorkers from the food resources they need. People should never be ashamed to seek out help. Ending this stigmatizing practice will take a barrier away from getting people the food they need for themselves and their families."

The state will issue a new regulation at the end of this month to eliminate finger imaging from the Food Stamp Program in New York. Once the regulation is released, the state will begin a 45-day public comment period – if you are interested in submitting your comments in support of ending finger imaging, stay tuned to this blog for information about how you can provide your input.

Finger imaging will officially end in New York State in mid-July, when the new regulation goes into effect. At that point, our team of food stamp specialists will be more than happy to inform the New Yorkers they assist that getting finger-printed is no longer a necessary step toward receiving the help they need.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

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