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

Fiscal Cliff Deal a Mixed Bag: More for Low-Income Families, Less for Nutrition Education

by Triada Stampas

The "Fiscal Cliff" deal struck by Congress at the start of 2013 made a number of changes to the tax code – many of them beneficial for residents with low household income, especially low-income families. With Food Bank research finding 70 percent of low-income families in New York City struggling to afford food, this comes as positive news for the New Year. Regrettably, alongside these gains, Congress enacted immediate and dramatic funding cuts to nutrition education programming for these same families, including our own CookShop and Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables programs. Significantly, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), as it was called, extended several important provisions that were set to expire, including expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, a higher credit rate for the Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps families pay for college. In addition, ATRA prevented an increase in taxes from kicking in for individuals earning less than $400,000 (and married couples filing jointly earning less than $450,000). Although some of these gains may be offset by the two-point increase in the payroll tax deduction, combined, these changes mean low-income tax filers will not see their tax rates increase or their available tax credits drop. In a surprise move, however, Congress decided to make an immediate 48 percent cut to this year's remaining funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) – a loss of more than $4.8 million for New York State's nutrition education programs that provide SNAP (food stamp)-eligible New Yorkers with the knowledge, resources and skills to make healthy food choices on a limited budget. While Food Bank will make every effort to minimize the impact of this loss on the more than 100,000 New Yorkers our nutrition education programs reach, a mid-year funding cut of this magnitude can't help but be felt. Worse yet, if Congress does not act, more cuts are on the horizon: WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) is scheduled for an eight percent cut on March 1, and SNAP benefits (food stamps) are threatened in the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations. If these benefits are slashed, more New Yorkers struggling to keep food on the table will be forced to turn to our city's already overwhelmed food pantries and soup kitchens. Your advocacy can help. Please contact your Representatives today and tell them to restore SNAP-Ed funding in the next fiscal cliff deal, and protect WIC and SNAP from cuts!

Triada Stampas is Senior Director of Government Relations at Food Bank For New York City

A Successful Summer for the Change One Thing Food Truck!

By Justin Crum, Youth Development Manager

Perhaps you saw it on ABC 7 or News 12, or maybe you read about it in the Amsterdam News, AM New York or The New York Times. Word was out over the summer about the Food Bank’s Change One Thing food truck, which was on the streets of New York City for nearly 8 weeks during the summer.

The truck is part of our Change One Thing social marketing campaign, now in its third year. “Change One Thing” is a simple message for teens that emphasizes the ease of making healthy decisions. One small step each day is enough to make a difference. Each year, we’ve tried to cut through the barrage of unhealthy messages aimed at teens in New York, beginning with graffiti murals and radio-sponsored events. This summer, we decided to take another step, bringing an interactive message to teens where they hang out: pools, parks and summer events. The truck distributes small food items to taste, including low-calorie fruit pops, fresh fruit and water, as well as recipe books. It also houses a video game, designed specifically for this campaign. The game, a mix of nutrition-related trivia and quick food decisions, was a hit at all of our stops this summer, especially amongst those that won prizes for their skills!

I was always excited to visit the truck. We’re so used to seeing questionable representations of teens on the media, it’s nice to see real NYC teens gathered and engaged around something positive. The first day the truck was out in the city this year was in Brownsville, at the Betsy Head pool. As I showed up on the elevated 3 train, I was able to see a crowd gathering in front of the truck. Walking from the station to the park, I saw a steady stream of kids and teens walking away from the park with big smiles on their faces, and healthy snacks in hand. Our first day was an unmitigated success. Maybe you saw the truck at a community event, park or pool over the summer and were convinced to Change One Thing!

A City of Overeaters? Watch out for Portion Distortion!

by Katy Mitchell-Gilroy

It seems normal that a large soda at a restaurant might be 44 ounces (for reference, a quart is 32 ounces!), a muffin might be as large as a grapefruit or pancakes might be as large as a dinner plate!

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, looking at how much meals have increased in size over the years, I would say we’re in a full-blown era of “Portion Distortion”!

I’m not the only one who thinks this. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently launched a new subway ad campaign to bring attention to the impact this trend has had on our general health.

Portions have grown - Cut your portions and reduce your risk of obesity.
Soda sizes (in the news recently due to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal of a 16-ounce maximum size for sugar-sweetened beverages at food service establishments) used to be much smaller. A large cola used to be 16 ounces and approximately 200 calories. If you’re extra thirsty and want to order a large cola today, be prepared for 32 ounces and a whopping 400 calories! And what is today’s “small” cola? Yesteryear’s large! 16 ounces and 200 calories Surely some of our readers are in the camp that try to avoid sugary drinks overall, but this is just one example of increased portion sizes, and it impacts much more than sugar sweetened beverages. Are you try to eat healthfully and having a Chicken Caesar salad for lunch? 20 year ago, a Chicken Caesar salad was approximately 1 ½ cups and provided 390 calories. That same Chicken Caesar Salad today is 3 cups but it has 790 calories.

Why does this matter? If someone isn’t aware of proper portion sizes (and many of us aren’t), they will consume more calories while underestimating the amount of food they’ve actually eaten. This is a perfect recipe for weight gain and other obesity related illness. With so many people overweight already, this increase in portion size is a real health concern – which is why teaching people how to recognize the right portion size is part of all of our nutrition education work.

In fact, recent Centers for Disease Control obesity statistics for New York City indicate that 58 percent of adults living in the city are overweight or obese (BMI 25+). In 2009, a data brief from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that child obesity rates in the five boroughs are higher than the national average - 22 percent are obese and 19 percent are overweight in contrast to 17 and 14 percent nationwide.

So just how good are you at spotting “Portion Distortion”? Check out this interactive quiz from the National Institutes of Health, and see how you score – then try to watch out for portion sizes in your daily life. We’d love to hear what you find – let us know in the comments!

Katy Mitchell-Gilroy, Nutrition Resource Manager with Food Bank for New York City, is a Registered Dietitian as well as a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and has experience working in the public health nutrition field. When she’s not working she enjoys singing, cooking, and spending time with her husband and daughter.

Teens Teaching Teens Part 4: A Successful Project Indeed!

By Russell Gee

As you know if you have been reading this blog over the spring, the Food Bank’s EATWISE nutrition education interns completed a project to raise awareness for healthy breakfasts at our high schools this year – with in-class presentations, marketing materials, social media efforts and more. We wanted this project to make a real difference on our peers’ health and diets, but how would we define success and know that we were actually influencing our peers?

To me, if my peers could demonstrate that they learned something and thought the information was useful, then this would be a successful spring project. I realized the spring project made a difference when I talked to my friend Ryan. He was excited to try and make one of the healthful breakfast recipes we presented. My other friend, Kaitlin, even told me that she was eating breakfast more often and was careful to make healthier breakfast choices. To see my friends actually learn something and make changes to how they eat because of what we presented was very rewarding.

The presentation itself was also an interesting experience for me. It was different than just presenting a paper . Our EATWISE breakfast project included full-fledged presentations - with scripts, a slideshow, games and information used to educate others about breakfast. The experience itself was like viewing a kaleidoscope, as I was able to experience what it is like to be a teacher and having to expect that anything could occur.

For me, one of the most memorable parts of the presentation was when we informed a class that skipping breakfast could actually cause you to gain weight rather than lose weight. (That’s because …) Seeing the surprise and intrigue on their faces was priceless. Overall, being able to reach more than 900 of our peers, through in-class presentations, school announcements, marketing materials and social media content – all of which we created ourselves - gives me and my fellow interns a great sense of accomplishment. Our project showed how one can change their perspective so slightly and get something worthwhile in exchange.

Teens Teaching Teens Part 2: Getting the Message Right

By Russell Gee, Kamilah Newton, Elif Ajredini and Aditi Rai

As our friends in the deliverables group wrote a couple weeks ago, the Food Bank’s EATWISE nutrition education interns are running on a project to educate our peers on the importance of eating a balanced breakfast. Changing just one thing in your diet can make a big difference and is super simple. We’ve done it and they can do it too – and when our project reminds our peers that eating breakfast can have a real impact on their energy, productivity and overall focus, we’ll be working hard to make sure they listen up!

As the marketing group, we want to capture our peers’ attention and connect breakfast to situations that teens actually experience, like studying for a test. We’ve produced our own flyers, with fun fonts and great images, and even a marketing script for our peers to use when conducting classroom announcements to promote our Twitter and Tumblr pages. At the very end of our presentations our peers will make a pledge to Change One Thing in their diet, and we will create a pledge wall with all of their responses. This will definitely be exciting and we can’t wait until we can share it with all of you!

We want our peers to have fun learning! If they ask a lot of questions, then we’ll know they’re engaged, fully captivated and want to learn more! We want to convince them to Change One Thing and let them know that it’s not hard to make minor changes to their eating habits. No change is too small!

Personally, I’ve learned a lot about teamwork, and the power of consideration. Our group has open discussions and we all share our opinions. We’re not always on the same page, but we make compromises and our work looks great because we’re working together. It feels good knowing that everyone has contributed to the project and we are producing something that makes us proud!

Bringing Breakfast Back

By Rachael Cusick, Serena Rivera, Celin Conception and Nafisatou Cisse

Do you ever wonder what people really know or think about nutrition? So do we! As part of the Food Bank’s EATWISE internship , we kicked off this school year by designing a survey to find out exactly what our peers know, or want to know, about nutrition. After reviewing student feedback from the 9 EATWISE high schools our team members attend , we noticed that a high number of teens don’t know enough about what types of food to eat in the morning. Based on that information, it was clear to everyone in EATWISE that our Spring 2012 school outreach project should be to raise awareness about the benefits of eating a healthful breakfast, with a focus on the importance of portion sizes.

To conquer our goal, we divided into four groups: Social Media, Presentation, Marketing and – our group – Deliverables. Our group’s role is to put together nutrition materials that students at our high schools can take home with them. So far, we have developed a Breakfast in Your Pocket recipe book and a guide to fruit food map to provide our peers with an easy way to access healthful, quick, and super tasty recipes. Just a few of the exciting things the other groups are working on are writing and delivering morning announcements in our schools, building social networking pages and designing fun, interactive classroom activities like MyPlate relay races.. By the end of March, we will have put the final touches on our project and will get the chance to present it in our schools throughout New York City.

We're really excited to show off all of our hard work and promote our healthful breakfast campaign to other teens – and even teachers. To keep up with our progress, watch out for the blog entries we will be posting every other week!

Three Guys, Someone Else's Fries

By Margarette Purvis,

I love the holiday season. For me, it always means longer time spent with my mom and more quiet time to reflect on the New Year. This year because of my recent move to the city I was excited to return to the South and find new things to add to my “to-do” list. I decided to hit up places that I’ve missed over the last three months. So I went to my favorite walking trail to take in the beautiful trees and etched mountain. You would think of all places, here is where I would find holiday enlightenment. Not so, I found it where you’d least expect. 

But before anyone tries to outfit me in bedazzled Birkenstocks...I should probably be clear. I only went to the trail ONCE. It’s the South and what you’ve heard is true: The food is ridiculously yummy! It should come as no surprise that much of my holiday “to-do” list was about what “to eat.” I received great joy from a tour of my favorite FOOD JOINTS. Because the Food Bank is a proud provider of healthful nutrition education services to a citywide network of charities and schools, I’ll spare you the details of my indulgences. Just know, that I went, I saw, I ATE.

It was at one of my final stops that my life was forever affected. This particular place not only has my favorite French fries, the owner is someone who I truly respect and he provides some of the best customer service around. It’s also a hot spot for youth from the community. While sitting there, three teen boys walked in. I noticed them because they arrived carrying empty cups (from the restaurant and the nearby Target) and parked themselves next to me and the soda fountain. When I saw them I smirked a little. My mind went back to being a teen at a local donut shop in Nashville. I remembered hanging with kids named Jeff and Stuart, who didn’t look too different from these boys, and the mischief we would get into after school.

Anyone looking at these boys probably thought they saw characters from an Abercrombie or J. Crew ad. They were scraggly haired, green- and brown-eyed All American teenagers. They were no different than any group you may find at any burger joint...except for one thing. I noticed that these boys never bought any food. They walked in with empty cups and proceeded to eat the free peanuts. They were missing the bravado of the boys I knew as a kid. They seemed too nervous to get the “free refills” as my childhood friend Peter named it. They ate so many peanuts that they kept my attention. Watching them made me think of my eleven-year-old godson, who as a growing athlete can put away so much food it boggles the mind. My godson is about three years younger than these boys, and he would NEVER be satisfied at 1pm with a bowl of peanuts. As I looked back at them, I heard one ask, “so what did you have for Christmas?” His friend, who looked no older than 13, said, “nothing…she didn’t have it.” I looked away from my BlackBerry and thought "Why haven’t they ordered something?"

As one of the boys caught me looking at them…they all decided to get up to leave. I watched as one placed his never filled cup in the garbage and almost looked away as the second boy joined him. And THAT’s WHEN I SAW IT: The second teen pretended to throw his cup away and instead reached in and GRABBED FOOD OUT OF the GARBAGE. I wasn’t the only person to see it. Across the room, another woman looked…stunned. I watched her grab her chest as we both stared at each other, blinking for a second. When I looked outside there were two of the boys, looking inside of the “rescued” bag and shoving the contents into their mouths as they hurriedly walked away.

I ran outside to get their attention and they nervously ran (without coats) between the cars as if they’d done something wrong. They had not, but I wasn’t sure if I had. Holiday haze or not, I know a simple fact: Millions of families rely on school meals to supplement their food needs and this was a REALLY LONG BREAK for families with little to no food. Hunger does not take a holiday and it does not discriminate. The needs of “growing boys” are the same in every household regardless of whether mom and dad can afford to meet them.

As I reflect on the New Year and the ideas and programming that I soon hope to share with our supporters and partners, I keep coming back to the notion of a “communal gift.” Whether you celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa there are lights involved. There was the light from the North Star, lights from the menorah and lights for Kwanzaa symbolizing direction for community actions. During my holiday break, I didn’t see a major light but I found ENLIGHTENMENT from three boys. Three hungry boys in a room filled with adults demonstrated how people can struggle in plain view. Three boys showed the leader of a Food Bank what the stigma around being an impoverished adult looks like in their children. These three boys did not “reveal” to me that hunger exists. I already know that. But these boys gave me a REMINDER of the URGENT NEED to help as many of us give the best gift to the neediest among us and that is our ATTENTION. Families are struggling all over this country. We can never say that we’re willing to ACT if we have not first trained ourselves to truly SEE. In 2012, I’m looking forward to launching new, dynamic programs to help as many New Yorkers SEE hunger for what it is and then CHANGE how many of our neighbors and friends experience it. We’ll keep the light on and hope you’ll keep an eye out and choose to join us!

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?

Infectious Enthusiasm: A CookShop Teacher

Although this is only Daisy Carusillo’s second year implementing the Food Bank’s CookShop Classroom curriculum at PS 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, she handles the job like an old pro.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Daisy in action as she instructed a roomful of new CookShop teachers at a training session one evening this fall. After a full day in their own classrooms, the teachers had arrived looking a little weary. But as Daisy led a mock Chef Lesson (a cooking activity in which students help prepare nutritious, kid-friendly recipes) it was clear that these lessons are her favorite part of the CookShop Classroom curriculum – and it was impossible for the tired teachers to resist Daisy’s infectious energy and humorous anecdotes. Plus, it didn’t hurt that the tangy batch of Peachy Orange Salsa they were preparing smelled so great.

“This is where nutrition education takes on a whole new life,” Daisy said. “The actual handling of the produce, the chopping, the dicing, mixing, the smells…does so much for the building of community.”

CookShop Chef Lessons give elementary-school children an opportunity to try healthy fruits and vegetables in a learning environment, Daisy said, while the Explorer and Discovery Lessons reinforce other academic areas such as reading, math and science skills.

“One of my favorite [Chef Lesson] memories is when a student was so proud of her dish – it looked so colorful, and it was so flavorful – she wanted to take some to the principal so she could taste it,” Daisy said.

But like all learning experiences, some can be a little jarring at first. When Daisy’s students were told carrots comprised the root of a plant, “they were so shocked, they weren’t sure if they wanted to continue eating [the Carrot Raisin Salad].”

Daisy said the students were more willing to taste the Three-Bean Salad and Apple Dipper recipes, but, she said, all CookShop lessons help serve a child’s personal development.

“Children who develop adequate cooking skills and nutritional knowledge are more likely to make healthier food choices later in life,” Daisy said.

And it’s that kind of insight – rather than the number of years’ experience -- that makes Daisy Carusillo an expert CookShop teacher.

CookShop Gets Cooking: Inside CookShop’s Annual Conference

By Leah Kohlenberg

Last week, the Food Bank kicked off the 18th year of our signature nutrition education program with a day-long conference, training teachers and educators to bring our CookShop program to students and parents in public schools throughout New York City.

A testament to the Food Bank’s continued commitment to nutrition education, CookShop will now be bringing the knowledge and tools to adopt a healthy diet on a limited budget to more than 135,000 low-income children, teens and adults through interactive workshops and peer-led social marketing.

This year, the Food Bank was proud to introduce important updates to CookShop. The CookShop Classroom for Elementary School curriculum, for example, now links nutrition education lessons directly to core subjects like math, language arts and science, and, importantly, to the school meals children have access to every day. CookShop for Families not only engages parents and guardians in workshops that complement the Classroom curriculum, it now also incorporates important skills like budgeting and meal planning.

This year’s keynote speakers – USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Mike Mulgrew – joined Food Bank President and CEO Margarette Purvis at the conference, showing their support and appreciation for the teachers, parent coordinators and school staff who make CookShop a reality.

“We live in challenging times, and teachers can play such a vital role, not only in ensuring that children won’t go hungry, but that they also eat healthy foods,” said Under Secretary Concannon.

Remembering the recipe prepared during his visit to a CookShop for Families workshop in the Bronx, Michael Mulgrew told us, “I don’t know what it’s called, but I still make it.” The UFT President further praised the hands-on CookShop curriculum for making learning accessible to all students, including those in special education.

Perhaps best of all, the conference gives us a great opportunity to hear from the CookShop teachers and educators directly about what they most value in the program.

”This is an excellent idea - to link [the lessons] to math, science and language arts,” said six-year CookShop veteran Millie Peguero, referring to recent updates to the curricula she will be implementing in her Manhattan kindergarten class. “We’ve already noticed that the apple lesson, for example, coincided with a science lesson on fruits of the season, so we use that as the science lesson that day.”

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