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

Thanksgiving Day: Through the Eyes of Food Program Manager

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.

No More Breakfast – The Real Life Face of Budget Cuts

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!

A Lesson in Grace from a Food Stamp Recipient

By Rebecca Segall

After spending my summer as an intern at the Food Bank For New York City, I now know almost every statistic there is about food poverty in the city. But to understand what – beyond the numbers – that poverty truly means, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those relying on food assistance. While I did my best to be empathetic, I had a difficult time imagining such a humbling experience.

I’ve been vegetarian for years, and though it isn’t essential to my survival, it is a big part of living the way I want to. But in a position of need, I felt I wouldn’t be able to refuse any available food, especially food rich in protein. I decided that in my hypothetical life of food poverty, vegetarianism would be a necessary sacrifice.

That is, until I met Susan. On a trip to conduct interviews with people who have been helped by the Food Bank, I was surprised by how easily I could relate to a woman from Queens’ earnest account of poverty. It wasn’t until Susan mentioned she was vegetarian that I better understood a bit of why I could relate to her so well. After a lifetime of produce and tofu, Susan was not about to give up important parts of herself just because her circumstances had changed. To make this work, she uses her food stamps, which the Food Bank helped her apply for, at farmers’ markets.

Susan not only survives but pushes herself to practice the values important to her, even if they demand a greater struggle. I admired her determination and, thanks to her story, understood the Food Bank’s goal more deeply. It is not just to provide food, but to provide the means to live with dignity.

I will remember Susan, and hope to maintain my own values in the face of obstacles with the grace and perseverance that she displayed.

Hurricane Irene: A Test of Emergency Preparedness

By Lydia Smith

As the leading hunger relief organization in New York City, the Food Bank plays a vital role in responding to natural disasters that affect the five boroughs. So, when news of Hurricane Irene came on a Friday afternoon, the Food Bank jumped into action.

Through our most valuable resource – a citywide network of approximately 1,000 food assistance programs – the Food Bank is positioned to bring assistance to our city wherever it is needed.

To maximize the effectiveness of our network and operations, the Food Bank maintains partnerships with the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the American Red Cross (ARC) and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) for both New York State and City. Further, because the Food Bank is the contracted provider of food from the federal, state and city emergency food programs, we are prepared to respond to calls from the agencies in Washington, Albany and City Hall that manage those programs.

With these systems and relationships in play, the Food Bank quickly established plans to respond to Hurricane Irene come hell or high water, literally.

The Food Bank’s executive team immediately moved to ensure business continuity by establishing contact with our partners and setting up transportation and communication plans for key staff. Within the hour, our warehouse team had positioned our stock of water to be ready for immediate distribution, ensured the availability of manually operated equipment and set up schedules to monitor operation of our cooler and freezer. Meanwhile, the Food Bank’s Agency Relations team worked with OEM to map network programs by zone as well as identify those near evacuation sites.

While the widespread flooding that was feared did not occur, many low-income neighborhoods did experience prolonged power outages. For New Yorkers who struggle just to afford food, food spoiling due to lack of refrigeration can be a serious setback.

When Monday, August 29 arrived, the Food Bank was fully operational and able to deliver scheduled orders. Further, our Benefits Access team has led an effort to assist food stamp recipients in applying for replacement of food purchased with their benefits that was lost due to the storm. Working in partnership with the NYC Human Resources Administration and through outreach to areas that experienced flooding and loss of power, the Food Bank is focusing our energies on reaching New Yorkers who lost needed food.

After that very long weekend of preparation and anticipation, I am proud of what our organization is capable of – and am happy to tell you that the Food Bank will always remain ready.

As Director of Operations, Lydia Smith helps to manage business continuity policy and represents the Food Bank on the board of the New York City VOAD.

Celebrating Our Independence

by Ashley Goforth

As you head off to celebrate the Fourth of July with picnics and fireworks in honor of America’s Independence, we want to thank you for the independence your support provides.

Thanks to your support of all our programs, we are able to work hard to give New Yorkers the independence they need to get back on their feet, get the food they need and the nutrition education that ensures a healthy future. Through our income support efforts – food stamp initiatives and the Free Income Tax Service program – we help New Yorkers work toward the monetary independence they need to avoid choosing between paying for groceries and paying rent. Through our nutrition education programs, we encourage the approximately 30,000 CookShop graduates to gain independence to make healthier choices in their daily lives. Through our citywide network of soup kitchens and food pantries, we help New Yorkers in need see that they don’t have to sacrifice their independence for food.

The Food Bank depends on supporters like you – whether you make a monthly donation, volunteer at our Community Kitchen or contact your Congress members to stop budget cuts to the federal emergency food program – to continue to provide the services and support that make up the safety net against hunger.

We thank you for everything you do to ensure that more New Yorkers can celebrate and cherish the independence the Food Bank works hard to provide.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday this weekend, from all of us here at the Food Bank!

Surviving College with Food Stamps

by Ashley Goforth

Recently, I've met a number of college students who are relying on food stamps in order to make ends meet and have put a lot of thought into the connection between being able to eat and being able to learn. Many students qualify for participation in the Food Stamp Program (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP). When I think of food assistance, my first thought is not college students, but the truth is, if you are hungry, you can't learn.

I recently learned more about college students relying on food stamps when I met Carlotta – a NYC student living in Brooklyn who has graciously allowed us into her experience as a food stamp recipient. Here is a short interview:

How did you come to apply for food stamps?
I was working as a massage therapist and going back to school. My schedule varied tremendously and sometimes I would have zero massages, which meant I earned no money. My friends and roommates told me about the program. After I heard more about a friend going through the process, I decided to contact the Food Bank for some help, and they took me through the pre-screening process. I was surprised that I qualified for food stamps as a student, but hearing it was an easy process convinced me to apply. Having the extra help each month relieved my anxiety about affording food.

How long does your allotment last during the month, and what do you do when it runs out?
From the beginning, I tried stretching my allotment through the first three weeks. Then I'd have enough money to pay for food when it ran out. I was living pretty poorly before so I was already used to being careful with my money.

Do you know of other students who would qualify for food stamps who are not taking advantage of the program?
Yes, many of us in my program are making less than $1,100 a month. I'm sure many of them qualify and aren't in the program.

If you struggle to afford food, food stamps may be just the thing to make ends meet. Our food stamp information call center (212.894.8060) is available throughout the work week, providing regular access to food stamp specialists who can conduct pre-screenings and answer questions. Call us today!

Principals: CookShop Helps Students, Families Make Healthy Choices

by Katherine Mancera

As today is the last day of public school in New York City, it is a perfect time to reflect on an exciting year of CookShop, the Food Bank’s nutrition education program. Our workshops for children, teens and adults reached more than 15,000 people in all five boroughs, including students in more than 700 public elementary school classrooms.

Last year, in a survey of participating teachers, more than 97 percent reported their students more likely to try a new healthy food because of CookShop, while 96 percent reported their students want to eat healthier and 92 percent said their students are making healthier food choices because of CookShop.

This year, participating principals sent letters describing their CookShop success stories, and we were thrilled to hear their rave reviews. We’re especially excited that so many people involved with CookShop will continue cooking and eating fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains at home. Here are a few of their stories:

“CookShop became a catch phrase in our building, and the amount of enthusiasm it built among our teachers and students was amazing. The children in grades pre-K to second and in our special needs class learn to make healthy, nutritious recipes that they eagerly share with their parents at home. CookShop’s lessons have students readily eating vegetables in our cafeteria that my nutritionist and our parents have told me they were not eating before. It provides a bonding experience, a motivational tool and a new way of talking about food and nutrition for our teachers, our parents and our students.

“CookShop is an essential weapon in our healthy-living, healthy-eating fight to change the obesity rates in our school and in our neighborhood.”
—Harold Anderson, Principal, C.S. 21 – Crisups Attucks Elementary School

“Our cook tastes the recipes and is going to start serving [CookShop] dishes at lunch time. This program has not only taught our community about healthy eating, but it has brought our community together.…Parents are volunteering in the classroom and cooking with the staff.”
—Carin Ellis, Principal, P.S. 212 Queens – School of CyberScience and Literacy

“The teachers and students love the program. I just walked into a bilingual classroom and it was the first time they have seen cauliflower and collard greens. They were amazed with the texture.”
—Melissa Acevedo-Lamarca, Assistant Principal, P.S. 19 Queens

“This is the first year my school is participating in the program and we LOVE IT!!! My little kindergarten, first and second grade students enjoy Fridays when their teachers do the CookShop lessons. I often have a little visitor coming to give me a small sample of what they made in class. My kids are always eager to explain what they made and how they did it.”
—Vanessa Christenses, Assistant Principal, P.S. 48 Queens – The William Wordsworth School

“This Thanksgiving my family had a potluck and we all had to bring something. My sister, who teaches second grade at a school in the Bronx, surprised us with the three-bean salsa, which she too learned to make in CookShop at her school. This was full circle for me…CookShop is touching the lives of so many near and far. It makes me smile every time I think of my sister serving a CookShop dish at Thanksgiving because she knows we all need to eat healthier.”
—Dora Danner, Assistant Principal, P.S. 17 – The Henry David Thoreau School

As improving child nutrition becomes a national priority, the Food Bank is proud of CookShop’s success in moving children and families toward a healthier lifestyle — and is working to bring the program to more communities in need.

Katherine Mancera is the Food Bank's Public Education Associate. For more information on our CookShop program go to www.foodbanknyc.or/go/CookShop, or watch our CookShop video below:

A Visit to St. Ann’s Episcopal Church

by Caitlin Buckley

From top: Alberta, a soup kitchen client and member of St. Ann's congregation; St. Ann's board member Virginia Potter catching up with congregation member Florence Taylor during soup kitchen service; Cynthia Black, a cook at St. Ann's soup kitchen; photos courtesy of Scott Waddell

The South Bronx is one of the poorest areas in the nation, and food poverty is widespread in the neighborhood of Morrisania, home of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, one of the Food Bank’s network members. For more than a century, the church has been a Bronx landmark — in fact, it is the first church in the Bronx — but St. Ann’s has grown into an innovative and esteemed community resource.

St. Ann’s operates a food pantry and soup kitchen, as well as after-school and summer programs for children, which incorporate nutrition education along with field trips, healthy snacks and exploration of the church’s vegetable garden. Cynthia, who cooks at the soup kitchen, moved to New York from the West Indies and has been a member of the St. Ann’s congregation for 20 years. “We are a family,” she says, and many members of the church both volunteer and rely on the church’s services. Alberta, a senior living on social security, first came to St. Ann’s for the food pantry and has joined the community. “I get food stamps now, so I don’t need the pantry as much, but I feel right at home here,” she says.

St. Ann’s is led by the Rev. Martha Overall, an ardent and compassionate leader in the fight against hunger. Author and educator Jonathan Kozol has chronicled her work, and Bernice King, who helps run the kitchen and after-school meal program at St. Ann’s, says, “She makes sure that we can feed everyone nutritious food…and she cares.”

Bernice is proud that St. Ann’s is helping meet the needs of its neighbors. “Whatever we have to do, we’ll do,” she says. “We have a lot of seniors who come to us, and they’re ashamed. They’ve worked their whole lives, and they don’t want to take help. But [they find] a community here.”

Originally featured in Food for Thought Spring 2010, the Food Bank's print newsletter.

Meet a New Yorker You Support

by Daniel Buckley

Recipients of the Food Bank's monthly e-newsletters may remember seeing that title in their inboxes last week. The email — which introduced supporters to a New Yorker in their borough (those who live outside the city or who we don't have that information for received a Brooklyn story) — started as I began to review the Food Bank's stock of interviews with the purpose of updating the Meet the People We Help stories on our website.

I have been working at the Food Bank For New York City for close to five years now, taking part in efforts to alleviate hunger and food poverty every week (okay, I snuck a few vacations in there, but you get the point). Still, I am completely humbled every time I make it to one of our network's food assistance programs to meet just a few of the 1.4 million people who rely on emergency food in our city.

As a Food Bank supporter, whether you have donated, volunteered or spread the word, you have made a difference to the lives of hungry New Yorkers. Since, in my experience, there has been no better way to understand the truth of that statement than to listen to one of those New Yorkers, I wanted each of our supporters to be given that opportunity.

So, let me take just one more minute of your time to introduce you to Linda, a woman I met at Broooklyn's Reaching Out food pantry:

“This is the first food pantry I’ve ever come to. I lost my job about a year ago. I’ve been able to find occasional work, but I’ve been basically unemployed ever since.

“I found out what hunger is. It was humbling. I lost weight. And I really learned how to stretch a dollar. I’m recently divorced, so it’s just been me trying to get by. My brother helps here and there with a small loan, but it’s not easy for him either....

“This food pantry is saving my life. I come here once a week to pick up what I need. They helped me file my taxes too.

“The good news is I’ve been hired! If I’m still eligible for tax assistance I’ll come back next year, but soon I’ll able to afford my groceries again. I’m picking up a donation envelope on my way out today. I’m really looking forward to that first paycheck.”

Meet more New Yorkers you have helped by volunteering at one of our network's food assistance programs or by visiting the Food Poverty in NYC section of our website.

In the News: CNN, the Daily News & the Post

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:

CNN International, “Growing Number of New Yorkers Depend on Food Help”
CNN International visits the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem to examine a nationwide increase in need for food more [includes VIDEO]

New York Daily News, “Queens Sees Huge Surge In Demand for Emergency Meals & Food”
Queens has seen a whopping 106 percent spike in the number of emergency meals being provided to hungry residents in the past two years — the second-highest increase in the city — according to a recent report on hunger from Sen. Kirsten more

The New York Post, “Target Gives $5K to Boro Soup Kitchen”
Target Stores donates $5,000 to Food Bank network member Biblica Restauracion church and soup kitchen in Sunnyside, more

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