Food Bank for New York City

Join Our
Online Community
Blog sidebar graphic Facebook sidebar graphic
Twitter sidebar graphic YouTube sidebar graphic

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

Living the Mission

Photo: Getty Images

By Zanita Johnson

January is Poverty in America Awareness Month and it is more than just a month-long acknowledgement for me. It is what drives me to work at Food Bank For New York City, and what has always motivated me to do more than lament the crisis from the sidelines. Before coming to Food Bank last month, I spent five years working at one of our member charities, Metro World Child (MWC), where I sourced, developed and maintained their mobile pantry and snack distributions for more than 20,000 children throughout the five boroughs.

While at MWC it was personally important for me to have a very direct impact on the lives of the people we served. Volunteering allowed me to foster relationships with approximately 125 children and their families through MWC's mentorship program and other initiatives.

It was this work that created in me an "I get to" mentality. Whether sitting in court during neglect hearings on behalf of parents who were doing everything in their power to ensure that their kids had food and clothes, or teaching families how to make healthy eating choices when nutritious items were often beyond their budget, I fell in love with these children and their families. They adopted me as auntie or godmother, and in some cases, as the stand-in mother at plays, basketball and football games, and parent/teacher conferences. Those experiences made me realize that I don't just do this work, "I get to" do this work. It's an honor that I cherish.

The past five years laid the foundation for a life dedicated to doing whatever I can to make a difference for vulnerable people in my community. Becoming a Food Banker as Manager of Member Services is the best way I can think of to further the fight against hunger in our city. I can now help serve the network to which I once belonged. Being a Food Banker allows me the platform to make recommendations and create protocols that benefit the specific needs of the food pantries and soup kitchens in our network, while creating a more efficient and empowering environment for the guests who visit our charities.

My passion and experience is what brought me to Food Bank For New York City, and the children that I have the privilege of continuing to volunteer with today are what motivate me for a lifetime of service to this cause.

Zanita Johnson is Manager of Member Services at Food Bank For New York City.

Bringing Benefits to New Yorkers in Need

By Amariante Mohedano

It's hard to believe that a financial hub like New York City is home to so many underserved people who work hard, yet struggle to get enough to eat. There is an entire population of New Yorkers who hold down 9-to-5 jobs, but still live paycheck to paycheck, having to choose between paying rent or buying food for their families. Food Bank For New York City is here for them, and I'm proud to be one of the benefits specialists at Food Bank's Call Center who help our neighbors access critical benefits that make a huge difference in their lives.

At the Call Center we receive approximately 65 calls a day, and it is up to us to provide these callers not only with basic information, but also with an empathetic ear. Sometimes people just want someone to listen.

For the majority of our calls, we offer information and assistance accessing emergency food. But we know that if people are calling us to find out where to get food, odds are they need other services as well. So we use our various resources to do more than provide people with a list of food pantries. We pre-screen callers to see if they qualify for SNAP (also known as food stamps), and let them know how to take advantage of Food Bank's free tax preparation services. We also offer referrals to housing resources, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), legal services and more.

When seniors call, especially if they tell us that they live alone, we like to refer them to Meals on Wheels to ensure that they can get food delivered right to their door, and also to Congregate Meals if they want to have meals with other seniors at a senior center, like the one at our Community Kitchen and Pantry in Harlem, or another location.

As benefits specialists, we know that assistance is not one size fits all. But we try our best to tailor fit services to all of our callers. It is a great feeling to know that at the end of each call we have helped fellow New Yorkers put food on the table and find a variety of resources that can help alleviate their struggle.

Amariante Mohedano is a Benefits Specialist at Food Bank For New York City.

Just Say Yes to Healthy Eating

by Alane Celeste-Villalvir

Earlier this month, Food Bank brought its Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) 11-month cooking demonstration series to BOOM!Health's Harm Reduction Center. I am always a tad nervous about how new offerings will be received by our clients. JSY nutritionist Stephanie Alvarado arrived 15 minutes early to meet me and get situated for the first demo. Since there was no sign-up for the event, she asked how and when we would be announcing it to the clients. I told her that we could make an announcement, but that she should just set up in the café across from our kitchen and see how many people organically flock to her out of curiosity. Within minutes, Stephanie had a room full of clients asking her questions and actively engaged in the subject at hand. On that hot summer day, the demo was about healthy beverages and the crowd absolutely loved it!

At the end of the class, Stephanie and I discussed the turnout. We couldn't have been happier. The group loved it. These kinds of activities are incredibly powerful for our clients because they're educational AND therapeutic. People walk away with useful and practical information and, because the classes are engaging and entertaining, clients get an escape from the stress and pressures of the day to day. Our clients are predominantly homeless and unstably-housed people battling substance abuse in the Mott Haven area of the South Bronx. We also serve a growing immigrant population, people living with chronic illnesses such as Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, people who are unemployed, ex-offenders, and LGBTQ individuals--in Mott Haven and the community at large.

As we planned for the next class--this time on increasing fiber intake--I couldn't help but still be amazed that clients were so eager to engage in conversations about healthy eating! I am so happy that we pursued this program. Not only do I hope to implement it at our other food and nutrition program sites, I'm also going to take advantage of all the programs and services Food Bank For New York City has to offer. Thank you Food Bank!

Alane Celeste-Villalvir is Director of Food and Nutrition Services at BOOM!Health, a Food Bank For New York City member charity.

Reflections of a Food Bank Intern

By Sea Bensimon

Earlier this month Sea Bensimon, daughter of Food Bank Celebrity Ambassador Kelly Bensimon, joined our team as a student intern. Here, she recounts some of her day-to-day experiences – from the people she met to the lessons she learned along the way.

Working as a student intern at Food Bank For New York City has been an exciting and eye-opening experience. I've helped out with Food Bank projects in the past, but my internship allowed me to experience programs I never knew existed. I learned the true meaning of Food Bank: take hold of hunger and kick it to the curb.

Monday – CookShop for Teens: EATWISE Training

Why would New Yorkers living in low-income households have high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases? Simple: lack of access to nutritious and affordable food. On my first day as an intern I learned that unhealthy food is cheaper and more readily available in poor neighborhoods, making it difficult for kids, teens and parents to form healthy eating habits and make better choices. When you're trying to get the most for your money, eating from the dollar menu at fast food chains makes sense. Many healthy or organic grocery stores are located in wealthier neighborhoods that are hard to get to and even harder to afford.

EATWISE teens learn how small changes can have a big impact on their health.

Food Bank's CookShop for Teens program – EATWISE – helps teens learn about nutrition and healthy living, and lets them teach their peers to do the same. The cool thing about this program is that teens spread the word through a social media campaign called #ChangeOneThing. The idea is to improve daily eating and exercise habits by changing just one thing. For example, instead of drinking three sodas a day, you would swap one for water. Instead of taking the escalator, take the stairs. If you want to get involved, use the hashtag #ChangeOneThing and share a photo or tip on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday – Helping Seniors in Harlem

I spent my second day at Food Bank's Community Kitchen & Food Pantry in West Harlem. I've volunteered in the Pantry before with my mom and little sister, so I thought I knew what to expect. When I got there I quickly realized that this time would be different. Without my mom and sister, I had to work side by side and interact with other volunteers and clients on my own. This made me a little nervous.

In the morning, I helped seniors choose items from the Pantry to take home. Each senior had a card to help them identify how many items from each section (such as grains, produce, dairy, protein) they could select. I had to put my mental math skills to the test as I tried to figure out how many points each client had left and what each can of food or cut of meat was worth. Even though school was out, it felt like a whole day of learning.

When the first senior came to the protein section, I mixed up the points. I was embarrassed, but as I helped the second client my confidence grew. Soon I was helping people with ease. One client's grandson even gave me a hug. I was so happy that I could help put a meal on his table.

Food Bank client Princella tends to the tomatoes at our Community Kitchen garden

Later in the day I got to see the senior garden behind the Kitchen. Here seniors grow their own spices and vegetables which are then made available in the Pantry. While I was in the garden, I met a woman named Princella. She smiled as she watered her tomatoes. It was clear that loving and caring for something made her feel proud.

Wednesday - Connecting New Yorkers

Today I worked in the call center, which connects low-income New Yorkers to benefits that help them pay for food, such as SNAP (food stamps) and free income tax assistance. Before I began working, the staff explained the meal gap map -- something I needed to understand for my task that day. The meal gap map shows areas of New York City where meals are needed the most.

Food Bank's Call Center handles more than 500 calls a week

I was responsible for calling local businesses in specific parts of Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn to see if they would be interested in SNAP brochures and posters informing people in their communities about services for which they may be eligible. Almost everyone wanted to participate. The people I spoke with gave me hope that hunger will eventually be no more.

Thursday - Ending Hunger in Brooklyn

Food Bank has a network of soup kitchens and food pantries all over New York City, and on my final day I visited one in Brooklyn. Believe it or not, it was my first time going to Brooklyn! It was really interesting to not only see a different borough, but to also see how Food Bank is working to end hunger there.

Sea on her way to help out at a pantry in Brooklyn

During my visit, I saw how computers provided by Food Bank made a huge difference to food distribution. The computers helped the staff keep track of the clientele--from how many people came in each day to their specific needs. For example, Jewish clients may want a certain type of food or have dietary restrictions. This information lets the pantry know how much and what type of food may be needed for a distribution, which helps to ensure that food isn't wasted. I had no idea that a computer could make such a difference to a food pantry trying to end hunger in its community.

At the end of my internship, I understood some of the different programs and services that make up Food Bank and how they connect to one another. I always thought Food Bank was amazing; now I think it's spectacular! I was given the opportunity to fall in love with a charity just like my Mom did. I am so blessed that I was able to take part in Food Bank's work: New Yorkers helping New Yorkers end hunger.

Sea Bensimon is a 16-year-old high school student and Food Bank summer intern who lives in Manhattan with her mom and sister.

A Place of Their Own

By Bonnie Averbuch  

Photo Credit:  Tim Reiter 

One of the things I appreciate most about being a nutrition intern at Food Bank For New York City is knowing that I have a hand in improving the health of people in the Harlem community. For the past several weeks I've been developing nutrition education and providing nutrition workshops at Food Bank's new senior center, which opened at our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem in November 2012. The more time I spend talking to the seniors, the clearer it becomes to me that this program is definitely adding some spice to their lives.  

Each day starts off with a hot breakfast at 9am and finishes with supper at 2pm. But it's the hours in between that add oomph to seniors' daily routines. They get to enjoy a variety of fun, engaging activities and every day is different. When seniors walk in the door, they might find Zumba, yoga or aerobics on the schedule to help them stay physically active. Or it could be an arts-and-crafts session. Perhaps they'll learn how to eat healthier in the nutrition class I provide that day or go on an outing to a museum. There's plenty of unstructured time too, when seniors can relax and read the paper, play cards and dominos, or simply sit and chat.  

From what I can tell, they enjoy all of it--from the planned activities to the free time. When I talked to Alan, a 66-year-old regular at the center who loves writing poetry, he said that the artistic activities were his favorite way to spend the day. "It helps broaden my creativity," he told me. "I'm blessed to be able to come to a place that's an outlet for senior citizens with creative minds to sing, dance, and make art." There's even an upcoming art show where clients can display their work. Another senior I met recently, Katherine, is so excited for her friends' "oohs and aahs" that she's leaving her artwork at home until the day of the show so that she can surprise everyone. 

Although some of the seniors have ideas for additional activities--Betty would like a movie night--it's obvious that they appreciate having a special place to spend their days. Everyone I talked to said it again and again. "It gives retirees something to do," Edith told me. "And that's important," her friend Christine chimed in. But the center is more than just a place to go--it's a place where elderly members of the community can learn, have fun, meet new people and make new friends. "We enjoy socializing," Alan told me. "We get to know each other. We're on a first name basis." One of his new friends, Katherine, couldn't agree more: "I can't wait to get here every day," she told me with smile. I could have guessed that just by looking at her. The excitement and happiness on her face said it all. 

Food Bank's Neighborhood Center for Adults 60+ is open Monday through Friday, 9am – 3pm. 

Bonnie Averbuch is a Community Nutrition Intern at Food Bank Bank For New York City. She is currently pursuing her M.S. in Nutrition and Public Health at Columbia University.

Change One Thing: New Year's Resolutions

With the New Year just a few days away, you have probably already spent some time – or told yourself you’re going to spend some time – thinking about your resolutions for 2012. One of the Food Bank’s central goals is to help build a healthier city through nutrition education – and within the CookShop team, we are resolving to inspire more New Yorkers to Change One Thing and build a healthier lifestyle.

A social marketing campaign that encourages New Yorkers to improve their health by making small changes to their diet, Change One Thing can be a great model for your own resolutions. Rather than resolving to hit the gym four days a week or to kick fried foods once and for all – c’mon, who are you kidding? – why don’t you drink water instead of that daily soda, or pick up some fruit instead of that bag of chips at lunch?

We asked some of our CookShop students and members of the Food Bank network to tell us what they would change in the New Year….

George , CookShop Classroom Student, PS180M

"Instead of eating meat, I would eat carrots. Instead of drinking milk with fat in it, I would drink soy milk. Instead of drinking juice, I would drink water."

Laura Smith, CookShop Classroom Parent Coordinator, PS 47X

“I’d like to exchange my dinner roll with a new vegetable every night .”

Russell, EATWISE peer educator , New Dorp High School

“I’d like to drink water throughout the day and eat vegetables three times a day.”

Marcia, Customer, Food Bank Community Kitchen & Food Pantry

“In the new year I hope to get less meat and more vegetables. I want my whole family to participate. My husband is diabetic and I want to prevent my children from being diabetic too.”

Margarette Purvis, President and CEO, Food Bank For New York City

“Locally grown food is so important. So, in 2012 I'm going to take a stab at gardening. I think I'll start with herbs and tomatoes!”

So how about YOU? What’s your Change One Thing resolution for the new year?

Because of YOU: Happy Holidays!

Cheryl with a carton of fat-free milk from the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry
Food Bank For New York City is so grateful for everything you do over the holiday season – and so are the 1.5 million New Yorkers who rely on our programs and services. It is because of YOU, our supporters, that the 1 in 5 children who rely on soup kitchens and food pantries in NYC have the nourishment they need to grow healthy and strong. It is because of YOU that veterans returning from overseas will have somewhere to turn if he or she find themselves struggling to afford food.

And it is because of YOU that Cheryl has the below story to share. Please take a moment to read below, and learn what a difference your support truly makes. Thank you!

"October was the first time I came for groceries at the [Community Kitchen & Food Pantry]. I get food stamps, but sometimes it's not enough. It's a help, but when I get to the end of the month, sometimes I need some extra help. So I come here.

The pantry helped me a lot with Thanksgiving. The rice and chicken I picked up at the pantry made the meal. I had a really good holiday because of it.

I think the way they do it here is good. Instead of just picking up a bag, I can pick what I need. It’s just like the supermarket.

Please keep it going. This is so great for the community. It helps a lot of people get by, and I am real thankful that it's here for us."

Back to Top

Agency Intranet Login

Close Move