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

Unexpected Lessons From Missouri: A Food Banker in Ferguson

By Lisa Hines-Johnson

Months ago, I agreed to co-chair Feeding America's conference for operations professionals scheduled for late summer in St. Louis. In a nutshell it meant that I committed approximately six months of focus on planning and collaboration to benefit my sister food banks all over the country. I was grateful and honored to serve our shared mission in this way. I admit to being a lover of learning so it was truly a joy to look at the national network of colleagues and plan a shared agenda for us.  When I originally wrote out my list of places to see and things to do in St. Louis, I drafted the typical list: Check out the Arch, sample some delicious soul food from Sweetie Pies, tour St. Louis' Food Bank (of course) and join my colleagues at a baseball game. I didn't expect it to rival our Yankees, but hey I was traveling without my little ones so it was already SUPER FUN. Everything was planned...and then we received the terrible news from Ferguson.

From the moment I heard of yet another senseless loss of a young person, I had a huge weight on my soul. As food bankers, our work deals with a social issue--ENDING hunger--which is a basic human right. But so is feeling safe. As a mother of three, including one son, I couldn't shake the feeling of anger and sadness. It went to bed with me every night and woke me up even on the first day of the conference. I didn't expect to feel so much gratitude for the Executive Director of the St. Louis Area Food Bank for acknowledging what was happening just 20 minutes away. He reminded us that as food banks we have a duty to support communities that are suffering and in need. My spirit was lifted a bit after that as well as sharing with conference attendees my own feelings that first morning of the conference. It was a great lesson that even at a gathering of operations, get-it-done types, sometimes the first order of business is to allow yourself to simply feel what you're feeling whether good or bad. It doesn't make you "off task"...I think it makes you IN HUMANITY.

It was my humanness, my mommyness that compelled me to use my last day in St. Louis to side step the visit to my sister food bank to instead, travel to Ferguson. I needed to go there.  I called a cab driver I'd met days earlier and asked if he'd take me to the place where a young man lost his life. The media was everywhere. As I made my way down the street, I talked to some of the residents and two police officers to get a sense of how people were feeling. I also visited the spot where Michael Brown was killed. It had been memorialized with flowers and candles. People had set up prayer stations, music was playing. The community was coming together in the wake of this devastating situation. Even though it was emotionally overwhelming, I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to witness it.

Everyone knows that I could not be more proud to be from the Bronx. As I reentered by cab headed home I was struck by one thought. The people of Ferguson want the same thing as the New Yorkers we serve: to be treated with dignity. When people think about a food bank, they think about food alone. But it takes so much more to thrive within a given life.  It's not just about the food. It's about dignity. People want to feel respected. They want to feel recognized. The people of Ferguson, the families on line at soup kitchens are the same as all of us.  We can never forget that.  In talking to folks there I understood that the tragedy underscores something they've always wanted: to be seen--and not through a prism of what others think they are, but for who they truly are: Moms, brothers, dads, sisters, regular people answering to the same name: Human beings.

Lisa Hines-Johnson is Chief Operating Officer at Food Bank For New York City.

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!

The Week in News: Obesity Rises, Hoyer Defends Safety Net

This week, as national jobless claims rose by 100,000, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a renewed focus on the state’s economy and job creation. And while reports pointed to increasing rates of obesity and a decline in healthy eating, First Lady Michelle Obama joined grocery chains to announce a national initiative to expand access to healthy food.

Gov. Cuomo says jobs, economy will be focus, AP, 7/19/11
Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he’ll focus his attention for the next six months on invigorating the state’s economy, including an international ad campaign that he said will rival the iconic I Love New York ads that began decades ago. The top goal, he said, is “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Hoyer against cuts to entitlement programs, The Hill, 7/20/11
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said it was the consensus of Democrats to oppose any benefit cuts under Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as lawmakers haggle over how to hike the debt limit and rein in deficit spending.

Jobless Claims Rise By 10,000 To Seasonally Adjusted 418,000, Reuters, 7/21/11
New claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, a government report showed on Thursday, pointing to a labor market that is struggling to regain momentum after job growth faltered in the last two months.

CDC finds sharp rise in obesity, state-by-state, USA Today, 7/19/11
CDC data from the National Nutrition Health and Examination Survey in which people are weighed and measured indicates that about 34% of U.S. adults, almost 73 million people, are obese. "We're going to have to see changes in behavior before we see changes in the prevalence of obesity," says Sherry, a CDC epidemiologist. These changes include providing access to healthy food options.

First Lady teams up with grocers nationwide, USA Today, 7/20/11
National chains, including Wal-Mart, Walgreens and SuperValu, and some regional retailers have agreed to open or expand more than 1,500 stores to bring more nutritious and fresh food to underserved communities.

As Black Unemployment Climbs, Healthy American Eating Declines, Huffington Post, 7/17/11
Some 4.5 million Americans are eating less-healthy food this year than they were a year ago, according to a Gallup Poll released in June, a trend that appears to go hand in hand with diminished spending power.

The Week in News: Benefits Account for $2 out of $10

This week, news spread that benefits that were extended to help Americans weather the recession will end for many Americans at the end of the year. Nutrition also made big news this week, as NYC’s Department of Health called for a national nutrition database for better consumer information, thousands of restaurants nationwide signed on to an initiative to provide healthier meals for kids, and a study found that proximity to fast food and income are the strongest factors in the food choices people make. 

Economy Faces a Jolt as Benefit Checks Run Out, The New York Times, 7/10/11
Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans’ wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability. By the end of this year, however, many of those dollars are going to disappear, with the expiration of extended benefits intended to help people cope with the lingering effects of the recession.

DOH wants national nutrition database, Crain’s New York Business, 7/11/11
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, along with 34 other health organizations, is calling on the federal government to create a national nutrition database that would allow consumers to compare grocery food products online, based on their nutritious value. The idea is to “foster competition for healthier products, driving the entire food supply to be healthier,” said Lynn Silver, director of the Office of Science and Policy.

15,000 restaurants order healthy new kids meals, USA Today, 7/12/11
More than 15,000 restaurants in the U.S., representing 19 different chains, are participating in a voluntary new initiative called Kids LiveWell. Many meals that fit into the program will carry an icon of a red apple. They must include an entree, side dish and beverage and contain 600 calories or less, plus meet other nutritional criteria.

Access to grocers doesn't improve diets, study finds, Chicago Tribune, 7/12/11
The study, which tracked thousands of people in several large cities for 15 years, found that people didn't eat more fruits and vegetables when they had supermarkets available in their neighborhoods. Instead, income — and proximity to fast food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice.

More fruits and vegetables for neighborhood, The Queens Courier, 7/12/11
The renovation and expansion of two supermarket sites in Jackson Heights and Corona will offer options for shoppers who want more variety and access to better produce in areas designated by the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) initiative.

The Week in News: Our Kitchen Loses $800K, Food Price Hike

This week, the Food Bank For New York City was hit hard by the loss of nearly 50 percent of funding for our Community Kitchen & Food Pantry in Harlem. The city has reduced the number of sites serving free summer meals to kids this summer, and the price of grocery staples has risen. The good news: city farmers markets will give food stamp shoppers a boost on fresh produce purchases this summer! 

Food Bank's Community Kitchen Loses nearly half its budget, WABC, 7/5/11
The free groceries [Vilma Frias] gets at the Food Bank's food pantry in West Harlem each month means the difference between being able to fill her sons' stomachs or not. But the program that keeps them and more than 4,000 other New York families fed is in jeopardy, after the Community Kitchen lost nearly half its budget due to state reallocations.

Fewer locations, but more free summer meals, WABC, 7/6/11
New York City is cutting back the locations serving meals to children this summer. The reorganization means 37 fewer food sites this summer, and will save the city about $11 million.  Last summer the city served about 7 million free meals, and this year the goal is even more.

Food prices have been creeping up all year. According to the latest American Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey, 14 of the 16 supermarket staples it tracks have increased in price between the first and second quarters of 2011.

White House and Congressional Leaders Urged to Reduce Deficit without Increasing Poverty, PR Newswire, 6/27/11
At a critical juncture in the deficit reduction talks, the leaders of prominent national religious, civil rights, charitable, economic research, and low-income advocacy organizations are calling on Executive and Congressional leadership to honor the precedent set by previous deficit reduction negotiations that have reduced the deficit without increasing poverty.

City farmers markets offer food-stamp bonus, Crain’s New York Business, 7/5/11
Through the city's “Health Bucks” program, shoppers using food stamps will receive $2 in coupons for every $5 they spend on fresh produce at participating farmers markets. The coupons are redeemable at 65 markets throughout the five boroughs.

CookShop Classroom Featured by International News Network

by Carly Rothman Siditsky

Last year, more than 700 New York City public school classrooms participated in CookShop Classroom. the Food Bank’s federally funded nutrition education program for elementary-school students. Recently, one CookShop classroom in Brooklyn was featured in a report by a major international news network!

The report by Al Jazeera English shows how CookShop uses hands-on activities to get young children excited about eating nutritious foods, especially in low-income neighborhoods where access to healthy food is scarce. CookShop gives students the nutrition information and food-preparation skills to make healthy food choices on their own, and also offers complementary programming for parents and caregivers.

All of the training, materials, food and support needed to implement CookShop are provided to eligible public elementary schools free of charge. In a survey last year, 92 percent of participating New York City public school teachers said their students were making healthier food choices because of CookShop.

The Food Bank thanks PS 133K, the William Butler Academy, for being an outstanding CookShop school. Interested in bringing CookShop to your school? Learn more about the program and download an application!

Check out this video to see what makes CookShop so exciting:

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 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

After Surgery, President Bill Clinton Calls for Better Child Nutrition

by John Leggio

Former President Bill Clinton speaking at the Food Bank's 2009 Can-Do Awards Dinner; photo by Tran Dinh

Here at the Food Bank, we work to improve child nutrition because we know kids’ food choices can have lifelong health effects. Last week, at a press conference in Harlem, former President Bill Clinton said he learned that lesson the hard way.

After surgery for blocked arteries at NY Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center, President Clinton "weighed in" on the childhood obesity epidemic while speaking for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“The root cause of this was habits that I acquired in my childhood,” Mr. Clinton, who also had a quadruple bypass operation in 2004, said.

Mr. Clinton (who spoke at our 2009 Can-Do Awards Dinner) also gave a shout-out to First Lady Michelle Obama for her “Let’s Move” campaign, which will tackle the obesity epidemic by helping families make healthy food choices, improving the quality of school food, encouraging exercise and increasing food access.

We’re working to meet similar goals through programs like CookShop, which encourages the development of healthy diets among New York City students and their families, as well as community outreach and advocacy on issues like universal school meals.

With work like ours — and similar efforts from a dynamic duo like the former president and the current first lady — maybe we can protect more children from the outcomes of poor nutrition.

In a Tizzy Over Taxes

by Ashley Goforth

Congressman Charles Rangel shows his support for strong student leadership as he chats with students trained as tax preparers from Frederick Douglass Academy and Rice High School.

Our free tax services can constitute a significant step from food poverty toward self-sufficiency.

Food Bank Board Chair Rev. Henry Belin hosted our special guest speakers at the kickoff event and emphasized the importance of community support for the program.

For the Food Bank, February means tax assistance is in high gear and heading full speed into the April 15 tax deadline. At the start of the month, the Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem hosted a press conference to kick of the tax season and to remind New York City residents that many of them may be eligible for free tax-return preparation and electronic filing at 14 sites citywide operated by the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program and online through the IRS and New York State Free File Alliance programs. On hand to discuss the merits of the program was Congressman Charles Rangel; IRS Commissioner Douglas Schulman; NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz; and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar; Ed Black, President and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA); and Brad Smith, President and CEO of Intuit Inc.

Then, on February 18, the Food Bank, Capital One Bank and the Brooklyn Community Foundation joined forces to bring attention to the program at the Fulton Street Capital One, where our program provides tax assistance for the northern Brooklyn community. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz joined Fran Freedman, LMSW, Deputy Commissioner, External Affairs  NYC Department of Consumer Affairs; our Vice President of Agency Resources & Benefit Access Carlos Rodriguez and Capital One’s Brooklyn Market President B.J. Duffy to extol the benefits of free tax assistance.

The Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program provides low-income New Yorkers with free tax preparation services as well as information on how to access the various credits they are entitled to – including the Earned Income Tax Credit , a key piece of the public safety net for the working poor. One of the largest programs of its type in the country, the Food Bank's Tax Assistance Program has completed up to 50,000 tax returns for low- to moderate-income New Yorkers annually — helping to provide as much as $100 million in tax refunds.

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.

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