Bank on It: A Food Bank Blog
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 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.
By Mandy Kessler
Thrice-Cooked Bacon. That was probably the crowd favorite when a group of Food Bank staff enjoyed a communal dinner last week at Mission Chinese Food, the hip new LES outpost, recently imported from San Francisco, where SF foodies haven't been able to stop raving about it since it opened in 2010.
But in truth, it's pretty hard to choose. Everything we had from Kung Pao Pastrami, to Salt Cod Fried Rice, to Stir Fried Sweet Peas, was absolutely delicious. And the Chongqing Chicken Wings — what a tasty, albeit spicy, surprise! Ignoring the chili peppers heaped on top of them, they looked like typical chicken wings, but they sure didn't taste like it. Not at all greasy, just perfectly crispy on the outside, they were tender and flavor-packed inside.
As we had been forewarned by the hundreds of amazing reviews which have piled up since the restaurant opened in May, the food was hot. But for those of us who went in a little afraid of what that meant for our sometimes-weak palettes, we were pleasantly surprised. The spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors, and with plenty of components to balance the heat — like the amazing rice cakes that come with the Thrice-Cooked Bacon and, of course, delicious cold beer — the heat didn't last too long.
But the very best part of our meal? As we enjoyed delicious food and excellent company we knew that, simply by dining at Mission Chinese Food, we were helping provide nutritious meals to New Yorkers in need. Why? Because for every tasty entrée purchased at Mission Chinese Food's NYC location, the restaurant donates $0.75 to the Food Bank For New York City. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the restaurant leadership, including rising star Chef Danny Bowien, and to the efficient work of the Food Bank, where $1 donated helps provide 5 meals for New Yorkers in need, our meal helped provide over 22 meals for our struggling neighbors. It took the guilt right out of ordering a second helping of Thrice-Cooked Bacon, to take home
|Chongqing Chicken Wings
|Stir Fried Sweet Peas
|The Thrice-Cooked Bacon - after we demolished it.
My name is Marcellus Wiley. In a single lifetime I've answered to ivy league graduate, professional athlete, sports commentator, friend and father. When you're in the public eye there's an assumption that the real you is known by all based on various television and radio interviews. When I saw Mario Batali in the news recently, it brought me back to the first title I ever had and that is "SON."
As a teenager I was often sent to the store by my mom to shop for the family. Whether it was for an extra ingredient needed for a certain dish, a gallon of milk...you name it and I was probably the one sent to get it. The journey I took to the store was not unlike that of countless kids all over the country. My team jersey was the same as most. My Chuck Taylors weren't too different from anyone else's and I gave the same "pound" to friends I saw along the way. The only thing that I was pretty certain set me apart from others was the currency burning a hole in my pocket. I knew that at the end of my shopping trip I would be paying the cashier with what I called "funny money", properly known as food stamps.
As a kid, I hated it. It's not like I was walking around like I thought I was better than others or some kind of Richie Rich but that didn't mean I wanted everybody to know THAT MUCH of our situation. In fact, sometimes I was so embarrassed that I would walk around the store in circles, up to 45 minutes in hopes to significantly delay the checkout process just so NO ONE would see me paying with those food stamps.
When I heard that the Food Bank For New York City was doing a Food Stamp Challenge where people were actually CHOOSING to live on $31 for the week, I was intrigued. In all of the rhetoric today it's great to see people walking a mile in another's shoes in order to better understand their situation. When you're on any form of public assistance like food stamps, you're never thinking about the fact that you are one of almost 50 million Americans who are ALSO requiring assistance.
In my conversations with the Food Bank's president I learned that almost 80 percent of people on food stamps are mothers and their children. That's not different from my story. I also learned that many times teens would rather avoid using programs like free and reduced lunch assistance to keep from being embarrassed in front of their peers. That too is not different from my story. What's different for me now is that as an adult I better understand the necessity of a safety net for any family in need. Being needy doesn't mean anything about your character and certainly it doesn't say anything about your potential.
My mother firmly placed me on a path of success. The fact that part of that journey included walks to the store carrying food stamps makes me admire her even more. My sincere hope is that each person who has taken the Food Stamp Challenge will walk away understanding that what was an experiment for them is just called life for so many others. We live in a world where it's better to be called anything but poor. The Food Stamp Challenge reminds us that it's important that we use our voice and circle of influence on behalf of those who could truly use it. Food Bank For New York City is using this challenge to increase awareness and encourage all of us to act by letting our elected officials know that we care about those in need and expect them to do the same. If you'd like to join us in this effort just click here and let your voice be heard too.
By Chef Karl Wilder,
What began for me as a month long project to live as a diabetic in support of the Harlem Hospital's Stirring the Pot diabetes program also became a commitment to the Food Bank For New York City when I realized just how common diabetes and other diet-related diabetes are in low-income communities – communities that also rely heavily on food stamps to get by.
To truly understand what low-income diabetics go through, I joined the Food Bank's Food Stamp Challenge last week – an experience that for me will culminate in a twelve-hour Chef Challenge Marathon on May 19 in support of Stirring the Pot and the Food Bank.
Last summer I lived on a food stamp budget for two months in preparation for a benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank. I did okay then because I relied on high calorie foods that are filling and provide sustenance. But with the added challenge of a diet restricted by a very serious health condition, this time I sought to create an eating plan that had about 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal and never exceed $4.44 per day.
My morning cup of coffee with a splash of milk cost me forty-three cents, just 6 strawberries sixty cents, two slices of bacon forty two cents. In no time my budget has been consumed.
Now I am just hungry. Every day I am hungry. Thus far I have not been able to get my calories above 1,500 a day, though my goal is 2,200. I just can't afford that many calories while eating the "right" foods. I have managed to stay within budget but I feel weak and have less energy. My sleep patterns have been interrupted because I wake up feeling hunger.
When we think about people on food assistance we don't often realize that many also have serious health issues like diabetes, celiac, heart disease.
We are not powerless. The Food Bank's Food Stamp Challenge doesn't just ask you to try experiencing life as a food stamp recipient for one week – it also asks you to take action by telling Congress to protect this essential program.
You can also host a Virtual Food Drive, where you can shop from aisles of healthy food options to support the Food Bank. Or, you can donate food to your local food assistance program – the Food Bank serves close to 1,000 of them throughout the five boroughs. But instead of pulling that extra pound of pasta or that can of beans from your pantry, head to the store. Pick up some high quality protein; sardines, anchovies, tuna, canned salmon, foods with omega 3 that are appropriate for those with health problems...and while you are at it...get some peanut butter for the kids.
By Mandy Kessler
Last week, a group of Food Bank staff gathered for a big group lunch to test out a delicious new partnership between longtime Food Bank supporter Mario Batali and the taste-masters behind Cambodian sandwich shop Num Pang. Aptly named the Batali Pang, this unique new sandwich benefits the Food Bank, so we may be a little biased. But if you question the objectivity of the following review, we have a solution for you – try the sandwich out for yourself and let us know what you think! You know you want to anyway.
The Batali Pang consists of authentic Italian cotechino sausage from Brooklyn Bangers with balsamic pickled onions and Cacio de Roma cheese, folded into the traditional Num Pang ingredients – homemade chili mayo, pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro.
As a bahn mi-lover, this sandwich offered just what I hoped for, traditional Asian flavors with a unique and pleasing Italian twist. The sausage had just the right amount of spice and fat to pair with chili mayo, and the pickled onions and Cacio de Roma cheese added a delicious bite. And after enjoying it all between the chewy-on-the-outside, soft-inside semolina flour baguette, I now know why the shop is named "Num Pang" a Cambodian term for "bread." With ingredients originating from countries not usually found in the same sentence, let alone sandwich, the different flavors came together seamlessly. I can safely say that all of my coworkers who joined me in testing out this unique partnership agreed – the Batali Pang is not to be missed.
I also have to add that, when you order the Batali Pang, check out Num Pang’s grilled corn on the cob. Our Fundraising Operations Coordinator summed up how we all felt about this addition to our meal: “I'm in a roast corn and meatball coma at the moment. Just the right balance of flavors, not too much of anything. Incredibly indulgent and delicious.”
But don’t take our word for it – check it out and let us know what you think. And remember, for every Batali Pang you order through March 15, a three dollar donation will be made to the Food Bank – helping to provide 15 free meals for New Yorkers in need.
By Ashley Goforth
The Bronx is home to many great things – a world class botanical garden and zoo, Arthur Avenue and the New York Yankees. But the Bronx is also home to some of the country's deepest poverty – according to Food Bank research, 50 percent of Bronx residents struggle to afford food.
So when the Muslim Women's Institute for Research and Development (MWIRD), a flagship member of our Bronx network, found itself facing a loss of nearly 70 percent of their funding, the Food Bank knew something had to be done.
With their Benedict Avenue and Highbridge food pantries in the South Bronx, the Institute is a beacon of hope within the country's poorest Congressional district. Run by Executive Director Nurah Amat'ullah and four additional paid staff – MWIRD relies heavily on the support of volunteers and donors to keep their doors open and services running smooth. The organization was originally established 14 years ago to serve the Muslim population, but has since grown to serve a diverse population that was in great need of support.
In December, after voluntarily giving up their salaries for the previous six months, the Institute's staff found themselves facing more than $48,000 in debt. With few options left, they reached out to the Food Bank for help. Hoping to stop the closure of a central Bronx organization, the Food Bank helped MWIRD bring their appeal to our network of media contacts, generating stories the Daily News and other major outlets.
The results went beyond our wildest expectations when the Collegiate Church Corporation, inspired by the media stories, gave MWIRD a grant large enough to cover their debt, pay their staff and save for the future.
The Food Bank is heartened by many parts of this story – the power of media to inspire, the dedication of our network members, that MWIRD is safe and continues to serve the South Bronx. And there is one more part that I am personally heartened by: in addition to its great teams, attractions and food, more people now know about the great people who sacrifice in order to help the Bronx.
Just before Thanksgiving, you heard from Cassandra Agredo, Director of Food Bank network member Xavier Mission, on Bank on It about the whirlwind of activity leading up to Thanksgiving day, when approximately New Yorkers would enjoy a Thanksgiving meal thanks to their efforts
Thanksgiving at Xavier Mission is my favorite time of the year. It’s when the best of humanity is revealed, when the boundaries that divide us seem to disappear for awhile.
What humbles me the most about the holiday is the gratitude I experience from so many people. It begins when our food pantry guests arrive to pick up their Thanksgiving food baskets. Many of them hug me, clasp my hands, and bless me and my family. Some are so overwhelmed by the food they are receiving and the ability to provide their families with a home-cooked holiday meal that they become tearful in their thanks.
One amazing moment happened when an elderly guest greeted one of my volunteers with effusions of gratitude and kept telling the volunteer how much she wished she could do something for him. All she had with her was a piece of gum and she pressed it into his hand, eager to show her thanks and return the kindness.
The gratitude continued to flow on Thanksgiving Day, when a gentleman joining us for Thanksgiving dinner at our community meal program slipped a napkin in my pocket. “Oh this rainbow coalition would fit into any exhibit of New York!” the napkin exclaimed. “Thanksgiving [at Xavier] was truly lovely and the greatest of performances!”
Gratitude emanated from our volunteers as well. One 78-year old woman had been signed up to receive a homebound meal. She called several days before the holiday to decline the delivery and requested instead that she be allowed to volunteer. She sat at the door and welcomed each guest into the hall with a smile, then thanked me over and over at the end of the day for allowing her to be a part of the festivities.
After being awash in the thanks and gratitude of so many this Thanksgiving, I find myself to be the most grateful of all. I’m grateful for the many blessings in my life, for the opportunity to work in a fulfilling job, and for the amazing people I meet every day—guests, volunteers, colleagues, advocates—who teach me so much about life, about justice and about love.
By Daryl Foriest
Back in June, the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry lost close to 50 percent of our annual budget after reallocations of state funding. As the Director of Meal Services at the Community Kitchen, I have been struggling with this loss of funding every single day since that time.
As painful as it is for me to face the affects of budget cuts, I just can’t compare my pain to what the New Yorkers we serve are going through – especially now.
Just about one month ago today, the Community Kitchen was forced to suspend our breakfast service – which served hot meals to 150 people every Tuesday and Thursday.
Though cutting two meal services may seem like a small sacrifice to some people, what most people don’t understand is that the New Yorkers who come to the Community Kitchen are people who have already factored in every hot meal they get here into their monthly budget. They are so careful to make sure they can pay rent and pay their bills that any single meal lost is a big deal. The meals we provide are a major part of their lives.
What feels the worst to me is thinking about the parents. The kids who come here don’t know they have it so bad. To them, this is just how they eat. For most of the parents, they don’t just have to deal with the loss of meals. They have to think and find a way to replace those meals so that the loss doesn’t hit their kids. But sometimes it’s impossible to protect the kids.
At our last breakfast, an eight-year-old girl named Sabrina came with her mom. They are regulars, so I knew to take them aside. Sabrina’s mom doesn’t speak English, so I had to tell her that she couldn’t come here for breakfast anymore. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I tried, but I just couldn’t stay to see the mom’s reaction. I already saw what it meant to Sabrina, and I couldn’t watch her figure out how to tell her mom.
The Food Bank is committed to continuing to provide soup kitchen meals and food pantry pickups at the Community Kitchen five days a week – and we hope to bring breakfast back as soon as we can. Please consider making a donation to support the Community Kitchen today. Thank you!
Tangy Mama here! We may have met at a past year’s festival, but in case not I should introduce myself. Not only am I the friendliest dumpling you’ve ever met and the mascot of the Annual Tang’s Natural NYC Dumpling Festival, but I’m also a proud member of the fight to end hunger!
|Tangy Mama, Mascot of the Annual Tang's Natural NYC Dumpling Festival
Luckily our 3rd Annual Tang’s Natural NYC Dumpling Festival is right around the corner, so if we haven’t met I hope to see you there! This year’s event, on September 17, is sure to be a dough-ball of fun with eleven restaurant booths serving an entire array of international dumpling varieties. They say “it takes one to know one,” and this little dumpling-lady knows her dumpling business and says that this festival shouldn’t be missed!
I love seeing the crowds of people enjoying such delicious dumplings, all while supporting one of my favorite non-profit organizations: Food Bank For New York City. There are so many booths to choose from, including miss Korea BBQ, Veselka and Ivy Bakery. The scheduled live performances are sure to please: the talented dance ensemble, Lei Pasifika is sure to impress the crowds with their Polynesian dance. If I’m a lucky dumpling, maybe I’ll learn a new dance step or two!
But that’s not all! This year, the Chef One Dumpling Eating Contest, one of our featured events, is in its 8th year! Additionally, dumpling history will be made, as Guinness World Records® will also be there to preside over an attempt to see who can set the new record of “Most Dumplings Eaten in 2 Minutes”! My goodness!
A whole festival devoted to dumplings – I couldn’t be more excited – especially since all proceeds benefit the Food Bank For New York City. Last year, we raised more than 220,000 meals for New Yorkers who struggle to afford food. I can’t wait to see how we do this September! So save the date, bring your family and friends out to Sara D. Roosevelt Park on E. Houston Street! I hope to see you there!
By Josh Wessler,
This week, in a joint venture with the Mario Batali Foundation, the Food Bank is launching an exciting new nutrition and health education program, Community CookShop, at food pantries and soup kitchens across the city.
The Community CookShop pilot program breaks new ground for the Food Bank. For the first time, our nutrition workshops will pair parents and caregivers with their children to learn and cook together. Also a first, the workshops will be available at several of our member programs — food pantries and soup kitchens — in all five boroughs. And finally, it is our first time partnering with the Mario Batali Foundation.
The Food Bank and the Mario Batali Foundation share a belief in the power of hands-on learning to equip families for a healthier future. Based on that belief, Community CookShop engages whole families in practicing strategies to get the most food at the best quality for the lowest cost. Community CookShop is modeled on the Food Bank’s successful CookShop program, the largest provider of nutrition education in New York City public schools. Like CookShop, the new Community program will use hands-on activities to enhance participants’ skills for maximizing their food budgets, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preparing tasty recipes.
All recipes for Community CookShop have been crafted by internationally-renowned chef, author and restaurateur, Mario Batali, who is also a dedicated member of Food Bank’s Board of Directors, the chair of our Culinary Council and an active proponent of child nutrition. All of Mario's CookShop recipes use nutritious, affordable ingredients that are available in local stores and food pantries throughout the city.
"Having been on the board and working with Food Bank for over 10 years, I feel honored and privileged to partner with them on this important step towards improving nutrition education,” said Mario Batali. “The Food Bank's strong ties in the community will undoubtedly make huge strides for many deserving families in NYC and hopefully help lead the way for the entire nation.”
Lucy Cabrera, President and CEO of the Food Bank, said, “We are thrilled to partner with the Mario Batali Foundation on this important nutrition initiative. Thanks to the Foundation’s generous support, we will now be reaching even more families, in their own communities, providing them with lifelong skills to create and sustain a healthier future.”
The Food Bank’s integrated services — food distribution, income support and nutrition education — help New York City families keep healthful food on the table through the toughest times.
Josh Wessler is CookShop Classroom Associate at the Food Bank. For more information about Community CookShop or to get involved, email email@example.com.