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

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

2009 in Video & Photo

by Daniel Buckley

With the mounting effects of the recession — including record-high unemployment rates — 2009 presented many challenges to the Food Bank For New York City. As the city's major hunger-relief organization, the Food Bank was there to help the 1 in 5 New Yorkers who rely on us to eat. 

Check back later this week for a Letter from Lucy (Lucy Cabrera, Food Bank President and CEO, that is) recapping the past year and giving a glimpse into the year to come. Right now, please take a moment to view, learn from and enjoy highlights of the videos and photo slideshows that display some of the Food Bank's efforts and events of the past year.


Generations of Hunger

Watch our 2009 video, offering an insider's perspective from the front lines of hunger relief.
Can-Do Awards Dinner

Watch Jon Bon Jovi at our 2009 gala. Visit our YouTube channel for more videos from Can-Do, including a live performance from Joseph Arthur and Mike Mills.


Watch our 2009 CookShop video to witness our nutrition and health education efforts.
If I Close My Eyes
Watch the Food Bank's latest public service announcement featuring Mario Batali, Stanley Tucci, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Stipe and more.

Visit the Food Bank's YouTube channel for more videos from 2009, including videos featuring Food Bank President and CEO Lucy Cabrera, Food Bank Board Chair Rev. Henry Belin, board members Mario Batali and Stanley Tucci and other supporters including Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Stipe.


The below photo slideshows were posted right here on Bank on It over the past year.

Thanksgiving Distribution

The Giants serve turkey at the Food Bank's Community Kitchen, from "Talking Turkey with Giants and Jets" by Ashley Goforth, Nov. 26, 2009

Chef One Dumpling Festival


Dumpling Man, giant dumplings, an eating contest and city Comptroller John Liu —all for hunger relief in "Dumpling for a Cause" by Daniel Buckley, Oct 29, 2009.


 Taste of Tennis

Tennis's biggest stars including Andy Roddick and Vera Zvonareva; NYC's hottest restaurants including The Stanton Social and Double Crown; and Bethenny Frankel support the Food Bank at BNP Paribas' Taste of Tennis in "A Taste of Tennis" by Kate Hindin, Sept. 3, 2009


 Fourth of July in Coney Island

In addition to being the most famous competetive eating contest in the world, the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest helps New Yorkers in need through its support for the Food Bank (and for those of you who get our e-newsletters, The Frankster's here!), in "Nathan's Famous on the Fourth of July" by Kate Hindin, July 13, 2009

For more photo slideshows, scroll through past postings on Bank on It...

Listening to Our Network

By Phillip Cooke

Working on the Adopt a Food Program initiative, a partnership between the Food Bank For New York City and NYC Service, I have had significant contact with many of the food assistance programs in our citywide network. This is a diverse group of people serving a wide variety of needs, but I have noticed one constant: in the difficult economic times we are currently going through, food programs are struggling with a rising demand for their services.

Food pantries and soup kitchens are seeing an influx of working poor: people who work part-time, full-time and often multiple jobs, but still need a little extra help to feed themselves and their families. At the same time, available funding is decreasing as individual and institutional funders are coping with diminishing resources — leading many food programs to cut back on services.

This all might sound rather alarming, but there is hope. In a time of great need, volunteers have the opportunity to make a truly lasting impact. Working with many of these programs, I have seen firsthand how volunteers are providing organizations with the support they need not only to maintain, but to improve services. Volunteers also bring skills and ideas from their own life, such as grantwriting or marketing, that can contribute a fresh perspective to their adopted food program, enhancing collaboration and innovation.

In the past, I have seen so much accomplished by people working only for the knowledge that they are contributing to something much bigger than themselves. I love the enthusiasm and dedication volunteers bring to their work. So far I have seen that passion in the many groups and individuals involved with Adopt a Food Program, and I am excited to see the results of their hard work.

To adopt a food program in New York, please click here.

If I Can Make It Here

by Paul Hernandez

“If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere” — I can practically hear Frank Sinatra singing those words as my imagination conjures them. Why is that song stuck in my head? You might be surprised at first, but I have been hearing this song in my head when I’ve met some of the New Yorkers served by the Food Bank For New York City.

Sinatra himself clearly had made it in New York. But, I would argue, there are many more people to whom this statement should apply as well: the recipients and beneficiaries of the Food Bank’s programs and services.

Many of the people I’ve met who rely on the Food Bank have lived in New York City for many years, if not their whole lives. We’ve come to know them and their families through our citywide network of food assistance programs —  including our Community Kitchen in Harlem — as well as our tax assistance, food stamp outreach and nutrition and health education programs. And we can certainly attest to the fact that they have “made it” here.

New York City’s working poor often find themselves holding down more jobs, for more hours, than is imaginable to many of us — on top of supporting children, attending school and caring for sick or elderly family members. Many of them are bilingual and multi-cultural — both accepting and knowledgeable about peoples and cultures from around the world. They are street smart and personable, reasonable and kind, quick to help and quick to tell someone when they aren’t helping. In other words, they’re New Yorkers, making it here every day, resting assured that they could make it anywhere, if they so choose.

Paul Hernandez, a recent graduate of Princeton University, works in the Food Bank’s Business Partnerships department.

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