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


As Schools Close, Summer Meals Opens

By Roxanne Henry,

New York City kids have now been on summer break for a full week. While more than a million children across the city are most likely still celebrating their newfound freedom, for parents and caregivers who struggle to afford food, this can be a time of heightened anxiety and concern. To get the most out of limited food budgets, many families depend on free or low-cost school meals for their children when school is in session. It’s no coincidence that the summer months see a spike in need among children at food pantries and soup kitchens.

Breakfast at a soup kitchen.
But with approximately 825,000 New York City public school students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals, emergency food alone cannot make up the loss. The federally funded Summer Food Services Program (SFSP, also known as Summer Meals), however, provides a free breakfast and lunch at schools and other venues throughout the city, and is available to all children. Because too many families do not access the program due to a simple lack of awareness, the Food Bank For New York City works to connect low-income families to this great resource that helps keep food on the table for their children when school meals are not available.

To increase awareness and participation, the Food Bank:

  • Works with the NYC Department of Education to recruit members of our citywide network of soup kitchens and food pantries to help provide summer meals at their sites.
  • Provides information about the program, and the locations of SFSP sites to  all food assistance programs in our network, creating a broad outreach effort within New York City’s low-income neighborhoods.
  • Collaborates with a coalition of governmental agencies and anti-hunger organizations to aid in a citywide collaboration to expand the program.

The Food Bank’s goal is to ensure that as many children as possible receive free summer meals, which are also available at schools, parks, libraries, pools and other sites across the city.

For a full list of Summer Meals sites, click here. Wondering which site is closest to you? Check out our maps of site locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens. To learn more about the Food Bank’s comprehensive efforts to fight child hunger throughout the year, click here. Roxanne Henry is the Food Bank’s Community Outreach Manager.

NYC Needs a Living Wage

by Ashley Goforth

Food Bank For New York City would like to announce its endorsement of the ”Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.” As our supporters know, the Food Bank works to educate members of the public and government officials at the city, state and federal levels to enlist their support in combating food poverty. To better understand the idea of a living wage and the Food Bank’s role in this effort, we asked Triada Stampas, Director of Governmental Relations & Public Education, to elaborate more on the campaign and the Food Bank’s mission to end food poverty.

What is a living wage? A living wage is the hourly wage rate necessary for a person to afford basic needs, like housing, food and health care. Because cost of living varies from place to place, the amount that would constitute a living wage in one city or area might be higher or lower than in another. In New York City, existing legislation has already defined the local living wage as $10/hour with benefits or $11.50/hour without benefits.

What is Living Wage NYC?
Living Wage NYC is a coalition of organizations that are working toward a living wage for all New Yorkers..

What is the Living Wage NYC proposing?
The campaign’s big push right now, which the Food Bank has endorsed, is for passage of the “Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act” (Int. 251-2010). The bill would require developers and major employers who receive government subsidies for economic development projects to guarantee that the jobs created by those projects will pay a living wage.

Why is the Food Bank involved?
The Food Bank strives every day not only to provide food to the 1.4 million New Yorkers who rely on our network of approximately 1,000 community-based member programs, but to tackle the financial, educational and public policy issues that perpetuate hunger and food poverty. Right now, New York City’s unemployment rate is still almost double what it was at the start of the recession, and the current minimum wage ($7.25/hr) is well below a living wage. So too many New Yorkers simply don’t have the resources to provide sufficient food for themselves and their families on a regular basis – in fact, our research shows 3 million New York City residents had difficulty affording food over the past year. Ensuring that those employers who receive city subsidies in turn provide a living wage to their employees is a significant step in the right direction – and if we are going to fulfill our mission of ending hunger in New York City, supporting work to secure the dignity and independence of a living wage for more New Yorkers is one of the most important things we can do.

I am a Civic Corps Member, and I Will Get Things Done

By Pan Venkatraman

Americorps logoAs the Food Bank For New York City’s two New York City Civic Corps members, Mallory Shan and I wear a couple of different hats. While on the one hand we’re akin to full-time staff at the Food Bank, we also have duties for the NYC Civic Corps, which itself is part of the greater AmeriCorps organization. AmeriCorps is a federal service program, created under President Bill Clinton in 1993, that engages citizens from all over the U.S. in long-term projects, including anything from after-school programs to special-needs advocacy to environmental clean-up. As two recent college grads serious about making a difference in our country, Mallory and I couldn’t have found a better fit than working at the Food Bank with the AmeriCorps program.

Swearing in by Mayor Michael Bloomberg

A few weeks ago we attended the 2010 New York State AmeriCorps Kickoff – an event acknowledging and celebrating the work of the nearly 1,200 AmeriCorps members in the state. The kickoff represented a fantastic opportunity to learn, network, and reaffirm our commitment to serving those in need – in our case, the hungry citizens of New York City. After an early morning bus to the state’s capital in Albany, we decamped to the sight of more than a thousand bright and enthusiastic corps members. We began the day with a rousing round of PT (physical training, to the uninitiated), and soon were treated to a packed program of inspring speeches, addresses and testimonials. John Gomperts, current head of the program, led a swearing in and recitation of the AmeriCorps pledge, committing us to “to make our people safer, smarter and healthier.” Certainly the highlight of the day was the address given by La Verna J. Fountain, President and founder of the Defiant Hope Consulting and Training Company. Highlighting her struggles out of poverty, her battle with multiple sclerosis and instances of prejudice in her own life, La Verna challenged AmeriCorps members to “say yes, where others would say no,” and to keep fighting for positive change even as naysayers will “stab you in the front.”

NYC Civic Corps 2010

On the bus ride back, Mallory and I had ample opportunity to reflect on the mandate put before us. We will certainly face challenges as we work on projects for the Food Bank, from tax assistance to the CookShop nutrition education program to improving the Community Kitchen and Food Pantry of West Harlem. And though things may get tough, we’ll be certain to keep this pledge in mind: “I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.”

NY State Cuts Off Emergency Food Supply - Tell Albany to End This Crisis!

by Triada Stampas

Albany's dysfunction is keeping food from people who desperately need it.

The Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) is a state-sponsored grant administered by the Department of Health that provides emergency food programs with funding for emergency food, operations support and equipment. State administrative functions have been so crippled that HPNAP expenses have not been reimbursed since April — causing a serious cash flow crisis for emergency food providers already struggling to keep up with increased need.* And without a finalized state budget for Fiscal Year 2011, new contracts cannot be approved. The result: the state supply of emergency food has been cut off.

The timing for this could not be worse, with demand for emergency food already at crisis levels because of the recession. Last year, nearly half of food pantries and soup kitchens had to turn people away for lack of food. In addition, when other services, like housing assistance and child care, are cut, low-income families are left with even less disposable income. Research shows these families will sacrifice food spending in order to keep a roof over their heads and cover other basic costs of living. In the long term, cuts to education and job training diminish their only available paths out of poverty, perpetuating a cycle of demand for emergency food.

The Governor, the State Senate and the Assembly must work together to end this crisis. Tell them that New Yorkers who struggle to put food on the table cannot go another day without HPNAP.

EMAIL ALBANY’S LEADERSHIP AND YOUR LEGISLATORS NOW!

* Fiscal Year 2010 HPNAP contracts covered the period from July 1, 2009 until June 30, 2010. Contracts for Fiscal Year 2011 were to have begun July 1, 2010.

Without School Lunch & Breakfast, Kids Need Summer Meals

by Roxanne Henry

Last week my nephew completed kindergarten, and began his summer vacation along with all the other children in the New York City public school system. It was an exciting week for sure, but also the week that hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren lost access to free and low-cost school breakfast and lunch. Instead of wondering which camp or summer activities their children should partake in, many of these families will have to worry about having enough food to eat during the summer.

As an aunt, I am very involved in my nephew’s life. Playing an integral role in a child’s development underscores the importance of alleviating harsh realities like child hunger. This reality makes my role as the Food Bank’s Community Outreach Manager so important: I advocate for better access to federal Child Nutrition Programs like the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP, or Summer Meals).

Recognizing that more children rely on emergency food during the summer, we work with the NYC Department of Education to recruit members of our citywide network of soup kitchens and food pantries to help provide summer meals at their sites. The Food Bank will support these sites by assisting with community outreach, developing activities to promote participation and providing additional program support. Our goal is to ensure that as many children as possible receive free summer meals, which are also available at schools, parks, libraries, pools and other sites across the city.

My hope is that, with support from the Food Bank and SFSP, New York City children will only have to think about where they want to play this summer, and not where their next meal may come from.

Letter from Lucy: Spring 2010

Dear Friends,

President Obama’s commitment to end child hunger by 2015 comes at a critical time. Right now, New York City’s food assistance organizations are struggling to meet the increased needs of a city devastated by unemployment, lost savings and the high cost of living, and many families with children have been hard hit by the recession.

Of course, no matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow, and I hope that in time we will begin to see signs of relief after such a long and brutal economic storm. For now, however, there is still a real and immediate need that must be met. The troubled economy has tried everyone’s resilience — from the city’s poorest, who have struggled with adversity and found themselves fighting even harder to survive, to the newly unemployed, who have turned to food stamps and food pantries for the first time.

I have worked with the Food Bank for more than 20 years to make sure that each of those individuals finds help when he or she needs it. Together, the Food Bank, our network and our supporters like you have worked hard to keep New Yorkers from falling through the cracks — New Yorkers like Alberta, a mother and retiree who came to St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx for emergency food and stayed to become a member of a community that supports and looks out for her. Or the many working families and individuals who turned to the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program this year — a simple initiative that brings millions of dollars in federal tax refunds into our city.

Your support and dedication help keep programs like these fully funded. The Food Bank is there for New Yorkers in need, and I am grateful to you for standing beside us.

Sincerely,

Lucy Cabrera, Ph.D., CAE
President and CEO

Why the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Is So Important

by Amruta Kale

As anyone who has ever held a job knows, taxes are no simple matter. And running our Tax Assistance Program, one of the largest programs of its type in the country, is quite an undertaking as well. But the Food Bank meets this challenge every year — helping to submit up to 50,000 tax returns for New York City’s working poor, providing as much as $100 million in refunds.  

New Yorkers are eligible for free tax assistance through the Food Bank’s program if they earn $50,000 or less with dependents, or $18,000 or less without dependents. Our program also screens clients to see if they are eligible to receive an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — a key piece of the safety net for the working poor and one of the largest anti-poverty tools in the United States.

For tax year 2009, EITC can provide low-income Americans with a federal tax credit of up to $5,657. In New York City, the working poor are able to receive a larger credit due to additional New York State and City Earned Income Tax Credits — bringing the total maximum credit to $7,637. A New York City resident with one qualifying child can receive a maximum credit of $4,108. A claimant with two qualifying children can receive a maximum credit of $6,817. And, due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a New Yorker with three or more qualifying children can receive a credit of $7,637 during the 2009 and 2010 tax years.

While EITC can be a lifeline to a low-income individual or family, there is a lack of awareness about this credit; nationally, nearly $16 billion worth of EITC goes unclaimed. To build awareness throughout our city, the Food Bank works with Intuit, business partners, elected officials and government agencies to conduct community outreach and media efforts. You can help too by spreading the word about EITC to your friends, co-workers and community — use our SHARE button below to spread the word through Facebook, Twitter and more or just email the post around!

If you think you may be eligible for EITC, use Intuit’s free EITC calculator today. For a listing of the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program sites, click here.

Unemployment and What it Means for Hunger in NYC

by Ashley Baughman

The recession is not likely to end any time soon for most New Yorkers.

This month the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the January unemployment rate in New York City was 10.4 percent (almost 412,802 people) — more than double the city’s 4.8 percent unemployment rate at the start of the recession, and higher than the current national rate of 9.7 percent (14.9 million people).

And these figures don’t even include workers who are unemployed but have not looked for a job in the past four weeks or underemployed workers who are seeking full-time work but were forced to take a part-time job. If these groups were included, the US’s total unemployment rolls would include 26.2 million people.

As a result, more people are now trying to fill fewer and fewer jobs. Analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found there are now 5.4 workers for every job opening, up from 1.7 at the start of the recession. That means the length of time workers are unemployed is also rising: laid-off workers now spend more time unemployed than at any other time on record — a median of almost five months.

Higher rates of unemployment and poverty mean more people will be forced to choose between food or rent, utilities and other necessities when allocating scarce dollars. January is the sixth, consecutive month of double-digit unemployment in our city, and local soup kitchens and food pantries are already feeling the effects: in the past year, more than 90 percent of our city’s emergency food programs have reported an increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

Alleviating hunger caused by high unemployment in New York City will require the preservation — even the expansion — of safety nets like the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), which provides food to hundreds of soup kitchens and food pantries.

It will require the implementation of policies like Universal School Meals, which help more children from low-income families gain access to needed food while creating jobs in school kitchens and cafeterias.

And it will require the implementation of sustainable solutions — a living wage, more affordable housing and lower health care costs — that would help struggling families afford food, even during difficult times.

New York Soda Tax Would Hurt, Not Help, Low-income Families

by Carly Rothman

Some powerful New York officials are throwing their weight behind a proposed soda tax, arguing the added cost — an extra penny per ounce — will deter consumption, fight obesity and reduce health care costs.

The New York Times editorial board also supports the tax, saying it would help limit soda intake in low-income neighborhoods where diet-related diseases are particularly prevalent.

“Poorer people, who lack healthy food choices, too often overload on sugar-laden soft drinks,” read an editorial in the paper last week.

But the dearth of choices is just the point. The reason low-income consumers disproportionately suffer from obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases is that soft drinks, fast food and other foods and beverages high in added sugars and fats are cheaper and more readily available than healthier alternatives.

The soda tax might make the sugary drinks less appealing, but it would do nothing to lower the cost of healthy alternatives like milk or vitamin-rich juices, nor improve food access in neighborhoods without supermarkets or grocery stores.

In other words, the regressive soda tax supported by Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg would punish low-income families for buying soda without offering better alternatives. Meanwhile, the tax will cut into families’ limited food dollars, making it even harder to afford healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and legumes.

Both the Governor and Mayor note the tax will create an important revenue stream during the ongoing fiscal crisis. We are sensitive to this need — particularly since Mayor Bloomberg has threatened, in response to proposed state budget cuts, to eliminate all city funding for emergency food assistance.

And helping people make healthy diet choices is an important part of the Food Bank’s work. CookShop, our nutrition and health education program, teaches more than 15,000 New Yorkers of all ages about how to read food labels and make healthy, cost-effective food purchases. Our social marketing campaign, which reaches more than 100,000 low-income teens, urges them to “Change One Thing,” swapping junk food for healthy alternatives — and specifically encouraging a switch to water from sugary drinks.

While we applaud public officials’ desire to fight diet-related disease and steer consumers away from soda, we urge them to do so by expanding poor consumers’ options, not limiting them.

Existing programs like the FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) initiative would provide incentives for supermarkets and grocery stores to open and expand in high-need neighborhoods — and require them to accept food stamps and WIC benefits to ensure they remain affordable and accessible to low-income consumers. New York’s Healthy Food/Healthy Communities Initiative would help finance store improvements to increase capacity for sales of fresh, healthy food.

Measures like these, which lift barriers, expand choice and empower individuals, should be the approach of all food policy — not programs that hurt the people they aim to help.

For more information, read our testimony before the State Senate Health Committee on the sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Share your thoughts: what do you think about the impact of the soda tax on low-income New Yorkers?

In the News: NY1, Huffington Post, The Economist and More

Food Bank For New York City continually works to raise awareness and support for hunger relief through media outreach and information sharing. Here are highlights of the recent stories that have featured the Food Bank:

NY1, “Food Bank Offers Free Tax Help As Uncle Sam Offers Sizable Tax Credit”
With tax season officially in full swing, the Food Bank For New York City, elected official and government agencies join forces to make sure New Yorkers get back every penny they deserve…read more [Includes VIDEO]

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Free Tax Site Helps Brooklynites File for EITC Credits”
The Food Bank partners with the Brooklyn Community Foundation and Capital One Bank to provide tax assistance for the working poor in northern Brooklyn as part of our Tax Assistance Program...read more

The Huffington Post, “My 2010 Wish List for NYC”
Gordon Campbell, President and CEO of United Way NYC, brings in the New Year with a loud cheer and his recommendations of achievable goals for 2010 that will help low-income New Yorkers…read more

The Economist, Letter to the Editor
Food Bank For New York City President and CEO Lucy Cabrera responds to “The Big Apple Is Hungry,” published in January 2010 by The Economistread more

The Packer, “Produce Industry Contributes Heavily to Feeding New York’s Hungry”
The Packer — the leading source of news for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry — explores the Food Bank’s food distribution efforts, which provided more than 13 million pounds of fresh produce for New Yorkers in need in fiscal year 2009…read more

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