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

Now That You Have Your Ph.D., Time to Apply for Food Stamps

by Astrid Spota

Education has always been portrayed as an avenue to career mobility and prosperity. However, recent studies challenge this adage, revealing that advanced degrees may not insulate families from financial hardship.

It is likely not surprising to hear that individuals with less education make up a large majority of households that rely on food stamps (SNAP) or cash assistance such as TANF. After all, access to most better paying jobs is limited to those with greater education. Nevertheless, a recent study from the Urban Institute,finds there has been a dramatic increase in the number of households with advanced degree holders receiving aid since the recession began in 2008.

The recession increased reliance on safety net programs across the board, but whereas for households with no more than a high school degree, the number receiving SNAP or cash assistance increased by 53 percent between 2007 and 2010, for those with a Master’s Degree, the number of households receiving aid increased by 188 percent in the same period. Even more shocking, the number of households with doctorate degree holders that receive aid more than tripled , increasing by 244 percent.

These trends are consistent with the findings of the Food Bank’s NYC Hunger Experience 2011: Sacrifice and Support, which indicates that a rapidly growing percentage of college-educated residents are struggling to afford food and are concerned about needing food assistance in the future. While the percentage of New York City residents struggling to afford food was similar in 2010 and 2011, the percentage of college graduates struggling to afford food increased considerably during the same time period. Between 2010 and 2011, the percentage of residents with a college degree reporting difficulty increased from 24 percent to 30 percent; and for those with a graduate/professional degree, from 19 percent to 21 percent.

Similarly, while the percentage of New York City residents with lower levels of educational attainment who expressed concern that they may need food assistance over the next year did not change significantly, the percentage of New York City residents with a college degree expressing concern increased from 23 to 30 percent .

Astrid SpotaThese findings not only speak volumes about how the recession has halted the progress even of those best equipped to get ahead, they underscore the importance of the safety net in protecting families who are unable to move up the economic ladder. Without resources such as SNAP, food pantries and soup kitchens, many households would be left with nowhere to turn, and forced to make extreme sacrifices that could be detrimental to their health and long-term financial independence.

Astrid Spota, Research Associate, works on projects that help the Food Bank ascertain trends and determine the need for emergency food, nutrition education and income support programs throughout New York City.

Food Bank Unpacked, Then Repacked

By Lydia Smith

Food Bank For New York City had a number of exciting achievements in 2011. One of the biggest is that we are now able to procure food in bulk, before it is packaged into individual containers suitable for supermarket shelves, helping the Food Bank to significantly stretch our purchasing power.

Purchasing in bulk is now one of the major ways we are able to keep costs down on nutritious food. However, processing large food containers safely in our warehouse so they are ready for distribution was a big hurdle that took close to a year of planning to pass. The project that allowed us to process bulk containers was the construction of a new, state-of-the-art repack room in our Bronx warehouse, where teams of volunteers repackage food into container sizes suitable for delivery to soup kitchens and food pantries.

Like most major projects, no matter the field, this one began with an extensive round of research. The Food Bank first turned to Feeding America’s national network of food banks, traveling to food banks around the country to assess different approaches to dealing with the safety requirements for working with open (bulk) product. We then turned to a veteran in the industry, Bob Matlosz, former Greater Chicago Food Depository Operations Director, for further assistance and hired Rogers Marvel Architects, an architecture firm familiar with the food bank network, to design the space within our active, 90,000 square foot warehouse.

The piece of this project that I am most proud of is the fact that we kept our food distribution process safe and up-to-code throughout the entire construction process. We knew that, in order to best serve our network, we could not interrupt food deliveries to network in any way for any amount of time, even while working toward developments that would increase our supply of food.

Now that construction is complete, not only is our purchasing power greater – our volunteers also have a more rewarding experience. We couldn’t have done any of this without knowing our volunteers, who make up a key part of the distribution process, would be there to make this possible.

Thanks to this dream combination of passionate volunteers and facilities that meet the strictest of food safety codes, our network will be able to fill more shelves and plates for New Yorkers who struggle to afford food.

The Food Bank is already scheduling thousands of purchases that will require repacking before being distributed to our food assistance network. If you have a group of 10 to 30 people who are interested in volunteering at our new Repack Room, please fill out our online volunteer application today.

Unemployment and What it Means for Hunger in NYC

by Ashley Baughman

The recession is not likely to end any time soon for most New Yorkers.

This month the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the January unemployment rate in New York City was 10.4 percent (almost 412,802 people) — more than double the city’s 4.8 percent unemployment rate at the start of the recession, and higher than the current national rate of 9.7 percent (14.9 million people).

And these figures don’t even include workers who are unemployed but have not looked for a job in the past four weeks or underemployed workers who are seeking full-time work but were forced to take a part-time job. If these groups were included, the US’s total unemployment rolls would include 26.2 million people.

As a result, more people are now trying to fill fewer and fewer jobs. Analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found there are now 5.4 workers for every job opening, up from 1.7 at the start of the recession. That means the length of time workers are unemployed is also rising: laid-off workers now spend more time unemployed than at any other time on record — a median of almost five months.

Higher rates of unemployment and poverty mean more people will be forced to choose between food or rent, utilities and other necessities when allocating scarce dollars. January is the sixth, consecutive month of double-digit unemployment in our city, and local soup kitchens and food pantries are already feeling the effects: in the past year, more than 90 percent of our city’s emergency food programs have reported an increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

Alleviating hunger caused by high unemployment in New York City will require the preservation — even the expansion — of safety nets like the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), which provides food to hundreds of soup kitchens and food pantries.

It will require the implementation of policies like Universal School Meals, which help more children from low-income families gain access to needed food while creating jobs in school kitchens and cafeterias.

And it will require the implementation of sustainable solutions — a living wage, more affordable housing and lower health care costs — that would help struggling families afford food, even during difficult times.

Food Bank In the News

by Daniel Buckley

The Food Bank continually works to raise awareness and support for hunger relief through media, providing information, data and stories of those in need.

Here are some of the recent stories that have featured the Food Bank so far this holiday season:

THIS WEEK: Fox 5, “Good Day New York”
NY Weather Authority Mike Woods visits the Food Bank For New York City’s 90,000 square-foot Bronx warehouse to help get the word out about hunger in our city, interview President and CEO Lucy Cabrera and repack food for delivery to food pantries and soup kitchens.

WNYC, “The Brian Lehrer Show”
Áine Duggan, the Food Bank For New York City's Vice President of Research, Policy & Education, discusses hunger in New York and demand at food assistance programs across the city.

The New York Times, “City Room” blog, “Stimulus Funds Stock Pantries and Soup Kitchens”
Nationwide, food assistance programs received an extra $100 million in resources from the stimulus, on top of the $250 million that was originally budgeted. New York State’s financing soared 118 percent to $45 million, of which $28.5 million went to New York City.

NY1, “Food Bank For New York City Prepares Pre-Thanksgiving Day Feast”
With more than three million New Yorkers experiencing food shortages, the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem prepared a Thanksgiving feast for those most in need.

Time/The Associated Press, “Food Banks Go High Tech to Feed the Hungry”
Food banks across the country are undergoing a high-tech revolution, adopting sophisticated databases, bar coding, GPS tracking, automated warehouses and other technologies used in the food industry that increasingly supplies their goods.

“Lola Berry New York,” Episode 4
Australian television personality Lola Berry drops by the Food Bank’s downtown office to interview Vice President of Policy, Research and Education Áine Duggan before subwaying it up to Harlem to speak with Jesse Taylor, the Senior Director of our Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem.

Tracking the Recession's Impact

By Ashley Baughman

As the recession deepens, unemployment rises and costs continue to increase, the Food Bank’s research department is keeping track of how this crisis is impacting New Yorkers — and the results are devastating.

Our most recent report, NYC Hunger Experience 2008 Update: Food Poverty Soars as Recession Hits Home, shows that the number of city residents experiencing difficulty affording needed food is rising rapidly, doubling from approximately two million in 2003 to approximately four million in 2008 — representing almost half of all city residents. In the past year alone, the number jumped by almost one million — the highest increase in the history of the poll.

One of the most alarming findings in the new report is that 3.5 million city residents are concerned about needing food assistance during the next year, including 2.1 million who have never accessed food assistance before. As of 2007, 1.3 million city residents were already relying on soup kitchens and food pantries, and our network of emergency food programs was struggling to meet demand — more than half of the programs frequently ran out of food and had to turn participants away (NYC Hunger Safety Net 2007: A Food Poverty Focus). Since March 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown that the number of unemployed increased by 5.3 million nationwide to an unadjusted unemployment rate of 9 percent, with half of the increase occuring in the last four months alone. An additional influx of residents in need of emergency food over the next year would be crushing.

These findings are particularly worrisome as city residents’ concerns about needing food assistance are more and more likely to be realized as the unemployment rate continues to rise. Results show that 3.7 million people would not be able to afford food within three months of losing household income (1.9 million would be immediately unable to afford food). Unfortunately, things are likely to get worse before they get better — economists anticipate that the unemployment rate will reach approximately 10 percent by the end of 2009, driving more families into economic hardship and to food assistance programs.

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