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

Volunteering Is Its Own Reward

By Jonathan Kong

The story of how I started volunteering began last year when I saw the events of the Boston Marathon unfold on television. After that day, I felt a strong need to help others, so I decided to volunteer at Food Bank For New York City.

My first project was on Coney Island, packing pantry bags at an elementary school for children to take home as part of Food Bank's ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. That was just the beginning. I've also helped out at Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem and I volunteer regularly at other charities within Food Bank's network. At Cathedral Community Cares I help clients get clothes from the Clothing Closet, and at Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger I help make compost and plant seeds in the vegetable gardens. I even appeared in Food Bank's public service announcement, which aired on the NASDAQ building in Times Square throughout the month of September.

When Food Bank issued its "30 For 30 Challenge" last year, challenging volunteers to complete 30 hours of service within the 30 days of September, I decided to take it on in honor of my grandfather, who was in extremely poor health at the time. The first volunteer to reach 30 hours would win a Caribbean cruise--and I won! The cruise exceeded my expectations. There were so many fun activities on board, from Zumba to stage shows to late night dance parties. I had a wonderful time.

Winning a vacation because I volunteer is great, but simply being able to help other people is the real reward.

Jonathan Kong has been a Food Bank For New York City volunteer for nearly a year.

Why I Became a VITA Volunteer

by Ling Zeng

As a graduate accounting student, I'd been thinking of how I could contribute my knowledge and skills in order to give back to the community. Food Bank For New York City's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offered me the perfect opportunity. However, it was not easy for an international student like me, who wasn't familiar with the U.S. tax system, to get the tax preparation certification. Fortunately, the veteran instructors at Food Bank were really patient and friendly with their teaching methods. And I'm proud to say that I did pass the exam and earned my certification.

Through Food Bank's VITA program I gained hands-on experience interacting with clients. Working one-on-one with people and helping them get all the refunds to which they're entitled is my passion. It's what I want to do in my future career. One of the things I enjoyed most as a VITA volunteer was seeing the smiles come across clients' faces when they realized how much money they were getting back from their tax returns. The sense of honor I felt assisting people who really need help can never be exaggerated.

One thing that I noticed was that many low-income families who need tax assistance are non-English speaking. That language barrier can be a challenge for both the volunteer and the client. Thankfully Food Bank's VITA program does have bilingual volunteers. But they can always use more. So I encourage multilingual speakers to join this important program and help these families in need. It's a wonderful experience.

Ling Zeng is an international graduate student at St John's University, a Food Bank For New York City VITA partner.

My MLK Day at Food Bank

By Samantha Katel (second row, far left)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" In honor of MLK Day, I went with my mother to Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem to make lunch for children who are hungry. Not just any children--kids who are homeless or live in shelters and can't afford to buy food or necessities. The director of the Community Kitchen told all of us volunteers that it's especially hard for them during the winter. He told us about a woman and baby that he saw walking outside in the cold with no place to go.

The volunteers were given bright orange MLK "Weekend of Service" T-shirts, buttons and wristbands, as well as plastic gloves and hair nets for cleanliness. Then we were put to work, assembly line-style, packing lunch bags. Half of us made sandwiches; the other half made chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. My job was to drop little balls of batter onto about 40 trays before they were put into the ovens. I was careful not to eat any of the finished cookies. It was tempting because they smelled so delicious, but I didn't want to take any away from the homeless kids. The lunch bags included a sandwich, potato chips and a juice box. Messages of love and luck were written in markers by a group of girl scouts who came up from Brooklyn.

There was one special moment that I'll never forget. As I was scooping the cookies into baggies, I looked up to see our new mayor, Bill de Blasio! He thanked us for our service, spoke to the TV cameras that were there, and then rolled up his sleeves to help us with the lunches. The mayor spoke about how we should help others, not just one day a year, but every day. It was really fun and a great feeling to know that I was helping people who are in need and have nowhere else to turn. It was a perfect way to honor Reverend King.

Samantha Katel, 12, is a seventh-grader at the Mandell School in Manhattan.

Helping Kids in a New Way

by Angela Ebron

All of my volunteer experiences over the years have involved children--by choice. I've worked with various social service groups to tutor elementary school kids from low-income families who were considered "at risk." (Although I prefer my colleague Beau's more accurate way of putting it: "at promise.") I've also performed front desk triage at an organization in New York City that has been helping teens in need become successful adults for more than 40 years. Now, as part of Food Bank For New York City, I get to continue serving children, but in a whole new way.

I recently volunteered at our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem with the rest of Food Bank's Marketing and Communications team. We spent the day stocking pantry shelves and preparing dinner. As I placed fresh vegetables into bins, put frozen meats into the freezer, folded utensils into napkins, and dished piping hot chicken into food containers for that day's dinner service, I thought about all the families who would come through the doors later that afternoon to get a hot meal or bags full of groceries to take home.

In the past, I worked with kids one-on-one. That's what I've always loved most about volunteering -- having an immediate connection. There's just something so gratifying about building a bond with a child who is relying on you. But helping out at our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry made me realize that I can still have a huge impact on children's lives, even if they're not right there with me. One in 5 children in New York City relies on a soup kitchen or food pantry to eat. So the hours I spent helping stock shelves and prepare meals made a real difference in a child's life that day. And knowing that is every bit as gratifying. If you'd like to volunteer too, click here.

Angela Ebron is Food Bank For New York City's writer and editor.

Why I Volunteer

By Victoria Dennis

I've been lucky to volunteer in Food Bank's Benefits Access department, where I get to serve hundreds of low-income New Yorkers each month. Here at the call center we help clients gain and maintain access to SNAP (food stamp) benefits, refer clients to food pantries and soup kitchens, and provide community outreach services. We also offer information and referral services to clients facing a broad range of problems. Since this fall, we have provided special support to neighbors affected by super storm Sandy.

Like many others in Food Bank's community, I volunteer because hunger and food insecurity are pressing problems for far too many of our neighbors. Many of our clients are facing chronic, acute or life-threatening illnesses, and often crippling health care costs. Others are working parents whose low-wage jobs can't adequately cover the cost of food for their families. Every day, the Food Bank helps reduce hunger and food shortages for New Yorkers in need.

My relationship with Food Bank began as a donor--and I'm still one today. But two and a half years ago, as the devastating effects of the recession deepened, I decided to try my hand at volunteering here.

The rewards of volunteering at Food Bank are immeasurable. I am especially gratified when I can help older low-income New Yorkers, a growing number of whom now find the costs of living and food a huge challenge. It's an honor for me to work with our highly skilled Benefits Access staff. They are patient, respectful and compassionate while serving anxious, food insecure families who face a daunting bureaucracy. Another highlight of my work has been my contact with the unsung heroes: the wonderful volunteers in our network of food pantries and soup kitchens who give countless hours of service.

In the current fiscal climate, our most vulnerable neighbors face daunting challenges, and hunger is a very real problem for them. But a group of concerned citizens can make a difference. And that's why I volunteer at Food Bank. If you'd like to volunteer too, please click here.

Victoria Dennis, LMSW, is a Benefits Access Call Center volunteer at Food Bank For New York City.

A Gift for Brooklyn

by Pat Curtin

On a cold December morning just before Christmas I made my way through Brooklyn to attend a very special event. The Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation (SCF), together with Food Bank For New York City and two of its member agencies, The River Fund and Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, joined forces to deliver 500 meals to residents there affected by Hurricane Sandy. Families from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) public and rent-subsidized housing in Red Hook and Gravesend--many of whom had been without heat or power due to flooding from the storm--received vouchers for emergency relief packages filled with frozen chicken, stuffing, potatoes, milk and other essentials to make the holiday season a little easier. "I've spent the last month at my cousin's house in New Jersey," one grateful resident told me. "Now that I'm back home, I just want to try to relax." Among those affected by Hurricane Sandy was Gloria Carter, CEO of the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation. I had a chance to talk to her before the food drive kicked off and she told me that her own house was damaged in the storm. In fact, it was the severity of Sandy--and its widespread impact on her community--that spurred her to get involved. "There are so many people who are still devastated, who don't have water or food," Ms. Carter told me. "I lost my house, but I'm here. I have food and water. The people who don't have those things...someone needs to provide it for them." The Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation's partnership with Food Bank For New York City marks a departure in SCF's usual holiday efforts. "I usually do a toy drive" Ms. Carter said, "but because of the devastation, I decided I'd like to feed people. That's why I did this." However, Ms. Carter and her volunteers couldn't stray too far from their toy drive roots, especially so close to the holiday season. They brought along two large bags of stuffed animals and sports hats--early Christmas presents that were a big hit with the kids. As the event wound down, I asked Ms. Carter how she thought the day went. "[People] were able to get what they needed today, and were really appreciative," she told me. "It ended up really nice." I think the families of Red Hook and Gravesend who were there that day would agree.

Pat Curtin is the Tiered Engagement Network Coordinator at Food Bank For New York City.

Picking Up the Pieces

by Thomas Neve

The day after Hurricane Sandy, my staff and I brainstormed and came up with a plan to help people affected by the storm. Luckily, Reaching-Out Community Services (RCS) is far enough from the shore line that we weren’t impacted by the severity of Sandy and were able to respond immediately. But many other communities around us weren’t as fortunate. We had never experienced such a level of devastation this close to home, so we were winging it. First, we assisted Coney Island’s Councilman Dominick Recchia, who had set up a relief site, by providing him with a truckload of food and water from our pantry stock.
Then we turned to social media. It was the perfect tool to put the rest of our plan into action. We spread the word on Facebook and Twitter that we were setting up two tents on the corner of Neptune Avenue and West 33rd Street as a hurricane relief site, and we needed volunteers to prepare hot meals and bring water and supplies for distribution.

What I saw the next morning when I arrived at the site brought tears to my eyes. There were dozens of cars with people unloading sandwiches, soup, hot trays of ziti and backed beans, fruit, water and much more. It was a feast. All in all, we mobilized more than 200 volunteers who helped us distribute hot meals and supplies from the tents for two days. And they’ve been helping us every since.

We then secured a storage unit outside our facility to create a hurricane relief drop-off center, and we’ve also secured a space, with help from Community Board 11, where we store additional supplies. A large portion of the food we’ve received has come from Food Bank For New York City, which sent trucks and trailers full of products. The RCS staff and hundreds of volunteers loaded their own vehicles with food and delivered them to disaster sites in nearby areas. It was a convoy of cars, filled with people determined to help their neighbors in need.

This outreach is still in effect and will continue as long as it’s needed. With Food Bank’s help we are able to distribute goods to our closest neighbors in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, and also help people in Red Hook, Gerritsen Beach, Staten Island and the Rockaways.

We have visited some of the most harshly impacted areas. The residents had no electricity, water or heat; their personal possessions were destroyed; and some even lost their homes due to severe damage. We have witnessed their sadness and sense of futility, but through it all they continue to display a heartfelt gratitude about the supplies they receive from us, and a spirit of resilience and strength that I know will see them through the difficult months ahead.

Thomas Neve is the Executive Director of Reaching-Out Community Services in Brooklyn, a member of the Food Bank For New York City network.

Giving Back to My City

by Debbie Calderon
When you hear about disasters like Hurricane Katrina, you feel terrible. But many people don’t do anything to help if they’re not directly affected. And I’ll admit, I was one of them. Hurricane Sandy changed all that. It’s the reason I’m here in Queens today volunteering.
Although I live on Long Island, I’m still a New Yorker. The city is part of my extended community and Sandy hit home for me. I wanted to contribute, to make a difference, no matter how small. Being here is an opportunity for me to lend a hand to people whose lives have been turned upside down by this storm.
Earlier this morning I helped sort donated products and now I’m packing emergency pantry bags with non-perishable food, water and other supplies to give to families in need. It’s been a busy and hectic day, but the experience is much more rewarding than I ever imagined. It feels great to be able to give back, and I’ve met wonderful people who are here for the same reason as me—to help others.
This experience has given me a whole new perspective and has changed me on a very deep level. If another disaster happens in the future, I’ll think back to this moment and I’ll respond differently than I did in the past. I’ll volunteer or donate money—I’ll do something. The one thing I won’t do is sit on the sidelines feeling bad about what’s happened. I’m going to get involved and make a difference!
Debbie Calderon, 22, is a college student from Long Island who spent a day volunteering at the Community Church of the Nazarene in Far Rockaway, one of Food Bank For New York City’s partners for Hurricane Sandy relief.

Volunteers Lend a Hand for Families

By:  Angela Ebron

On Monday, November 5, one week after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast, Food Bank For New York City CEO Margarette Purvis showed her appreciation to volunteers at Food Bank’s Food Distribution Center in the Bronx. As men and women of all ages listened to Purvis thank them for donating their time, it was clear that they were proud to be there. The Food Bank warehouse regularly schedules groups of volunteers to lend a hand, but in the days following the storm, people simply walked in asking how they could help. On this day, more than 50 people, both walk-ins and scheduled volunteers, were on hand to repack cases of donated products into boxes earmarked for families: Baby wipes, diapers, toys, household cleaning products and more. About half the volunteers worked the morning shift, starting at 9:30 am, while the rest came in for the afternoon shift, wrapping up at 3:30 pm. By the next day, all the boxes they’d repacked had been distributed to sites throughout the city.

The Holiday Season Is Upon Us – and So Is Check-Out Hunger!

By Jamee Brody

One of the times I most often think about the New Yorkers who rely on the Food Bank is when I go grocery shopping. I try to clip coupons as much as possible, and do at times feel I have to be vigilant with my food budget and avoid all the treats calling out to me from the snack aisle – but in the end I know that my cupboards will always be full. Too many New Yorkers don’t have that luxury.

That’s why I love the Food Bank’s Check-Out Hunger campaign. From October to January, when you go shopping you’ll find one of the easiest ways to give I’ve ever seen – just look for our Check-Out Hunger placards at the register and have your cashier scan the bar code on our donation slips. A donation will then be added to your bill – and remember, a donation of just $5 helps the Food Bank provide 25 meals to New Yorkers in need. I did mention it’s easy, right?

Last year, Check-Out Hunger raised more than 850,000 meals for New Yorkers in need with the support of more than a dozen supermarkets including ShopRite, Foodtown and Fairway. This year, I am excited to see what we can achieve with specialty retailers Fishs Eddy and Eataly joining our supermarket partners to help our most vulnerable neighbors.

And thanks to Eataly, Check-Out Hunger isn’t just at the check-out line – it’s online. The 'Eataly for the Food Bank For New York City' campaign gives online shoppers a chance to donate to the Food Bank while shopping for delicious Italian goodies. So while you are at getting the perfect Italian inspired gift box for the 'Italian' cook in your family you can also add to your shopping cart '25 meals for a child in need'. I hope with the support of follower New Yorkers and nearly 200 participating specialty/supermarkets stores to have another successful Check-Out Hunger year.

Visit and shop 'gift boxes' and add to your cart a gift for New Yorkers in need.

To find a participating Check-Out Hunger location near you please visit

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