BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
by Kathy Berry
After my daughters were grown and I had time on my hands, I discovered the joy of volunteerism. I had always helped out at my girls' schools, but when I fulfilled a major dream and moved to New York City in October 2013 I decided to take a sabbatical so I could do even more. On the recommendation of a friend, I interviewed for a volunteer opportunity with Food Bank For New York City and was lucky enough to be placed in an Event Lead position at the New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF). My first assignment was managing a team of volunteers inside the festival; then I was moved outside to help with registration.
I loved the young people I worked with. The support volunteers were wonderful, and when one of them called me Mama Kathy, my heart sang. The guests were friendly, fun, and excited to be there. Sylvester Stallone came right by me. So did Joe Namath. Each night when I was done with my volunteer duties, I popped into the evenings' events: Burger Bash hosted by Rachel Ray. Tequila and Tacos with Bobby Flay. So much fun, and oh, the food!
My only regret is that I didn't get to chat much with my fellow Event Leads as I was outside and they were inside. But we caught up, giggled, and relived all the fun moments when we did see each other. I have their emails. Hopefully we can connect and have a reunion. More new friends!
I loved everything I did that weekend, and it wouldn't be my last time volunteering with Food Bank. Just a few weeks later I was at their downtown Manhattan office doing volunteer outreach. While I was making my phone calls, Food Bank President and CEO Margarette Purvis gathered the staff for an exciting announcement. NY1 News had just selected the Food Bank For New York City as the "New Yorkers of the Year"! I was moved, humbled, and proud to be helping in any small way that I could for such a wonderful organization. It has become one of my favorite places to volunteer.
Kathy Berry is a healthcare professional who is currently taking a sabbatical to volunteer throughout New York City.
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.
By Peer Deutsch
Being on the frontlines of the war on poverty in New York City is tough. It's really hard to see the elderly, who should be enjoying their golden years, coming to a food pantry for something to eat. It's painful to watch a mother standing on line with her child to get food to take home. What goes through my mind as we serve so many people each week is how much I wish we had milk and eggs for the kids. How I wish we had more protein for the seniors. How I wish we had some chicken and fish for families to bring home. But we do what we can and hope that each effort we make and every service we offer, such as free tax assistance, help accessing SNAP, clothing drives and free school supplies, helps alleviate New Yorkers' burden a little more.
We accept only kosher food donations, which limits the food items we have available. It's sometimes a fraction of the donations other agencies may get. Yet, we do not limit our clientele to people who keep kosher. Everyone is welcome to receive assistance from us--and we wouldn't have it any other way. But we struggle, improvise and do everything humanly possible to put together a respectable pantry box each week.
As we approached Passover we started worrying, as we do each year. How would we possibly help impoverished, kosher-eating families during the holiday season when they can't really substitute peanut butter for a chicken, or a can of tuna for eggs and fish? Food Bank For New York City provided the answer, and it was the single most moving experience I have had in 19 years of serving the public.
Food Bank helped our agency access kosher foods that would serve our clients best. Dr. Camesha Grant and her member services team were tireless and vigilant in getting us foods that have never been accessible to us before. And I mean tireless! I once called Dr. Grant in the evening to leave her a message and she picked up! Each hurdle they encountered was seen as a challenge, not a roadblock. I am so excited to be able to offer substantial food items to our clients for the holidays. But mostly I am excited to know that there is a wonderful current of goodwill and real concern at Food Bank. In every department, someone is always there to help. We have a very capable partner to back us up in this war on poverty.
So to President and CEO Margarette Purvis, Dr. Grant, Renee, Pat, Elizabeth, Angela, Carol, Alyssa, every staff member, every single person filling warehouse orders, every smiling, cheerful truck driver who shows up in freezing temperatures--to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your dedicated work. May God bless you and keep you safe.
Peer Deutsch is Food Program Coordinator at Oneg Shabbos, a member of Food Bank's network of charities.
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.
By Sheree Quiles
We often get so busy with the daily demands of work and life that we sometimes forget the big impact small gestures can make. But when a recent gas explosion on East 116th Street and Park Avenue caused two buildings to collapse, I was quickly reminded.
From the start, The Community Kitchen was alert to our clients' and community's needs. Immediately after the explosion, our staff began calling our registered local seniors to find out if they'd been impacted by the blast and to offer help if needed. Our director, Daryl Foriest, rushed to the Salvation Army as well to offer assistance and also delivered emergency pantry bags to the local public school. Four children affected by the explosion are students there. In a time of displacement, it's a blessing for their families not to have to worry about where the next meal will come from.
One of Food Bank's partners, Emblem Health, contacted me and arranged to send over a social worker to offer counseling to our clients. Antonio Ocasio arrived the next day and quietly sat with some of our seniors. His presence seemed to be reassuring. Although none of our senior clients were directly impacted by the explosion, many live in the neighborhood and have been emotionally affected by what happened. It's impossible not to be. That day was devastating, and our seniors are constantly reminded of the tragedy as they go about their daily lives.
A few days after the explosion, as I greeted new guests during our senior program's breakfast, a man named Mr. Bishop took my hands. He told me how grateful he felt when he received a reassuring phone call from us. He said the staff was warm, and made him feel special. Mr. Bishop's words made me pause, take a deep breath and gently squeeze his hands. I'm glad that our small gestures of caring had such a huge impact on him and all of our clients.
Sheree Quiles is the Administrative Manager at Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry of West Harlem.
by Marlo Dublin
Too often brown rice gets a bad rap. This healthy staple is tasty and nutritious, but it's one item that I've noticed is slow to move from food pantry shelves. Since March is National Nutrition Month, here's a primer on the perfect side dish.
"Are brown and white rice the same?"
The 411: Brown rice is considered a whole cereal grain, and is harvested from a type of grass. During harvest, its husk is removed, leaving it with a complete structure that includes a germ, bran and endosperm. When these structures are removed during processing, the result is white rice.
"Is brown rice really healthier than white rice?"
The 411: Yes! Brown rice is a 100% whole grain and packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, including fiber, protein and iron. Whole grains can help reduce your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and help in weight maintenance. Brown rice is also low in fat, calories and sodium, and is gluten, trans-fat and cholesterol free.
"I don't have time to cook brown rice; it takes forever, and comes out mushy or too hard!"
The 411: Water and timing affect the texture of cooked brown rice. It will likely come out mushy if you cook it in too much water for too long, or too hard if you don't cook it in enough water for enough time. Use these easy cooking methods, both of which serve 3-4 people, for the best results:
Bring 2½ cups water to a boil and stir in 1 cup of brown rice. Then, cover your pan and reduce heat to simmer rice for about 40 minutes. When most of the water has been absorbed by rice, turn the heat off and finish steam cooking rice in the pot with the lid on. In 5-10 minutes, the rice will be cooked and fluffy when stirred.
1100 Watt microwave:
Combine 1 cup of brown rice and 3 cups of water in a 2½-quart microwave-safe dish. Microwave uncovered on high heat for 10 minutes. Reduce power to 50% and continue microwaving rice uncovered for 20 minutes. Allow rice to sit for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork and serve.
"Brown rice is expensive!"
The 411: Research shows that a two-pound bag of long grain white rice can cost $2.69, while the same size bag of long grain brown rice can cost $2.79. For ten cents more, opting to buy brown rice can improve the nutritional quality of our meals.
"My family doesn't like brown rice. They say it tastes funny."
The 411: Combine cooked brown rice with white rice as a way to get used to its wholesome and nutty texture. Over time, add more brown rice in place of the white rice until you are eating it on its own! Or, stir in a splash of coconut milk towards the end of the cooking time to add a tropical flavor to the rice.
Marlo Dublin is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.
Need in New York City's Jewish community has grown over the years and Food Bank's network of nearly 40 Kosher agencies has stepped up to ensure that observant families have enough to eat. Together, we distributed 11.5 million Kosher meals last year.
With more than half a million Jewish New Yorkers living in or at the edges of poverty, the high cost of kosher foods makes it hard for many families to keep food on the table. Nathan Krasnovsky, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP), one of Food Bank's member agencies, sees these struggles every day. "If people who keep kosher don't have food, they don't eat," he says.
That hard truth was even more evident after Hurricane Sandy, especially in the community JCCRP serves. "There is just one kosher supermarket in Far Rockaway, but it was forced to close because of damage from the storm," explains Krasnovsky. "It was a big deal because people couldn't get kosher food elsewhere." Fortunately, with deliveries of shelf stable kosher food from Food Bank, JCCRP was able to fulfill that need for observant residents.
Like other Food Bank charities across the city, JCCRP saw an increase in demand in the aftermath of Sandy that has remained high more than a year after the storm. "Many people who were 'making it' before the hurricane, aren't making it anymore," says Krasnovsky. "They are still trying to get back on their feet today." The uptick in clientele means that JCCRP and other agencies serving the Jewish Community will have more people coming to them this Passover season. But Food Bank and its network will be there to make sure that our Jewish neighbors have a plentiful Passover table.
If you'd like to help provide Kosher for Passover meals to struggling Jewish families in New York City, please visit foodbanknyc.org/Passover.
by Chris Bean
As an emergency food provider in the Bronx, Part of the Solution (POTS) was dreading the impact of the SNAP reductions in the Farm Bill. The individuals and families we serve were already struggling from the 2013 cuts, and another round would be devastating to sustain. It's nearly impossible for low-income families to maintain healthy eating practices without food stamps. We are so thankful that Governor Cuomo recently stepped in to ensure that struggling New Yorkers won't find their cupboards bare and their plates empty.
By preserving $457 million in SNAP benefits, the Governor has negated the second-wave of SNAP reductions and helped to ensure that low-income New Yorkers, including children, veterans and senior citizens, receive the essential nutrition assistance they need to maintain healthful lives. When our struggling families don't have to worry about putting food on the table they are relieved of an immense burden and are better able to focus on their education, health, employment and other areas of critical importance.
We are so thankful that our mission of treating low-income people with dignity and respect is being reflected in our state government. Governor Cuomo has garnered state resources and allocated them to those who are, arguably, least capable of shouldering the burden of federal cuts. We at POTS could not be more appreciative of his support.
Chris Bean is the Executive Director of Part of the Solution (POTS) in the Bronx, a member of Food Bank For New York City's network.
Today is the perfect day to get in more "greens." Celebrate the luck of the Irish by adding fruit to a traditional St. Patty's Day favorite. Try this tasty--and healthy--cabbage side dish from our JSY nutritionists.
Cabbage Apple Slaw
- 4 cups finely chopped cabbage
- 2 apples, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 ½ tablespoons low fat mayonnaise
- ½ cup low fat sour cream
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, combine cabbage, apple and bell pepper.
- In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, brown sugar and lemon juice.
- Add mayonnaise mixture to large bowl (cabbage mixture). Mix well.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Can be served immediately or covered and chilled before serving.
- Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes 6 servings.
By Margarette Purvis
1st Call: 7am. 4th Call: 8am. Race downstairs to give out last business card. Race upstairs to make another call. Start edits on presentations. Get interrupted seven times with more calls, IM's, an email littered with silliness from someone who should know better and then back to edits. A quick read of what's before me, followed by a long pause. What I'm reading doesn't feel like me or what I want to say. Something is off. I get up. I open the curtains. There is sunshine. I am surprised. The weather man said that my temporary office in Florida would see rain every day of LEI's Lean Summit. The job the humidity is doing on my hair says he's right. My eyeballs confirm he's wrong. I grab my sneakers and RUN to the door, before what I see morphs into a cruel mirage. I can't remember my last walk in sunny, WARM weather. With every step I take I feel better. I think about the last couple of weeks. Anxiety over the Farm Bill was more taxing than I cared to admit or even truly recognized. I decide to release that and focus on how awesome I felt when the governor's office called about how he would strategically use $6 million to save $457 million in SNAP benefits for the people we serve. In that moment I noticed I had been holding my breath. It was nice to finally enjoy taking in NEW oxygen.
With every step in an unfamiliar community, good feelings are returning. I start reminding myself that not everything was bad in the past few weeks. I think about the great support my team and I enjoyed from so many unlikely places. I think of groups not typically defined as hunger advocates proving themselves to be the DEFINITION of authentic partners, leaders even...some of the best a cause could have. I think of how some of my new friends have helped me see old stresses with reNEWed eyes. I think about supporters who have used their access on behalf of New Yorkers they will never meet, without any prodding, all because it was simply the right thing to do!
Every day at Food Bank we face a new normal. The demands and requirements to meet the needs of the New Yorkers we serve become greater. The leadership our mission requires can't be faked, dialed in or assumed. The struggle to afford food is owned by far too many New Yorkers. Stacking our team with the right leaders and partners is not a preference but a requirement. Not because one CEO says so or five people disagree, but because 1.5 million New Yorkers and the city they call home DESERVE a different approach to ending hunger. When having a job (or two) is no longer the answer to staving off hunger, concerned people must answer the universal urging to ensure we're asking the right question. Yesterday's effort and response are both out of touch and out of order for those seeking to be called leader IN THIS SPACE.
As I cross the street to return to my hotel, it hits me. My pace quickens as I think, "Get it together, sister. You're here for a reason!" We've spent the last year working on a strategy to reduce the meal gap. In it, we said, leadership would be key and now we have a governor who lead in the way we needed, and we've been gifted with a national stage to describe our experience with a best in class corporate partner. At this point, my pace is bordering on a skip as I remembered the major lesson from the past few weeks. I'm not wrong to expect passion and commitment from those receiving mail in our shared trenches. Who knows? Maybe as I'm celebrating and touting the corporate culture and employees of Toyota and the gift that Kaizen has been to Food Bank's network, there could be a corporate leader in the audience who needs to hear our story and better understand that by coupling humility with skillsets, an interested person can actually be HELPFUL and viewed as an ACTUAL leader...not just an assigned one.
As my hotel gets closer my feelings and message become clearer. A new normal, no matter how taxing doesn't have to be all bad. For every challenge, there is an opportunity for a new leader, friend or supporter to make themselves known. Just as the sun I enjoyed was not expected, one never knows the blessing waiting around the next corner. I'm grateful for the chance to enjoy a walk in OUR walk and will keep the faith needed for the next steps.
Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez