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

Small Gestures, Big Impact

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.

Keeping Kosher

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

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.

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.

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.

Does the number 1040 scare you?

by David McCoy

tax seasonW-2, 1099, 1098-T, 1040, 1040-EZ, if you are like me the numbers on these forms may stir up anxiety or confusion. So what do we do? We use TurboTax or stop by H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt and, in the process, shell out sometimes hundreds of dollars hoping that this help will lead to a bigger tax return. Whether or not you can afford that assistance, the reality of tax season descends on usall every January and hangs like a dark cloud over our heads, often until the last minute of April 15.

For some of New York's most vulnerable, there is another option, where people can get high quality tax services without any added cost. That's right: FREE. The Food Bank's free tax services provide assistance from thousands of IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers who help qualifying New Yorkers get the most out of their tax returns. And, with fourteen sites spread throughout the five boroughs, experts are just around the corner.

Last year, the Food Bank's Free Income Tax Assistance Program completed more than 37,000 tax returns New York City's working poor -- helping to bring more than $65 million in tax refunds and credits back into the city. Our program is not only putting money back into the pockets of low-income New Yorkers – we also help move New Yorkers toward greater economic self-sufficiency by providing eligible households with access to bank accounts, food stamps, health insurance information and SaveUSA accounts -- a savings incentive program offered in limited locations in New York City.

David McCoySo spread the word with the Share button below, check the eligibility requirements and stop by and visit your friendly, neighborhood Food Bank tax preparer.

As Agency Resources Coordinator for Food Bank of New York City, David McCoy works to increase the capacity of our network of community-based member programs.

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."

Thanksgiving Day: Through the Eyes of Food Program Manager

Just before Thanksgiving, you heard from Cassandra Agredo, Director of Food Bank network member Xavier Mission, on Bank on It about the whirlwind of activity leading up to Thanksgiving day, when approximately New Yorkers would enjoy a Thanksgiving meal thanks to their efforts

Thanksgiving at Xavier Mission is my favorite time of the year. It’s when the best of humanity is revealed, when the boundaries that divide us seem to disappear for awhile.

What humbles me the most about the holiday is the gratitude I experience from so many people. It begins when our food pantry guests arrive to pick up their Thanksgiving food baskets. Many of them hug me, clasp my hands, and bless me and my family. Some are so overwhelmed by the food they are receiving and the ability to provide their families with a home-cooked holiday meal that they become tearful in their thanks.

One amazing moment happened when an elderly guest greeted one of my volunteers with effusions of gratitude and kept telling the volunteer how much she wished she could do something for him. All she had with her was a piece of gum and she pressed it into his hand, eager to show her thanks and return the kindness.

The gratitude continued to flow on Thanksgiving Day, when a gentleman joining us for Thanksgiving dinner at our community meal program slipped a napkin in my pocket. “Oh this rainbow coalition would fit into any exhibit of New York!” the napkin exclaimed. “Thanksgiving [at Xavier] was truly lovely and the greatest of performances!”

Gratitude emanated from our volunteers as well. One 78-year old woman had been signed up to receive a homebound meal. She called several days before the holiday to decline the delivery and requested instead that she be allowed to volunteer. She sat at the door and welcomed each guest into the hall with a smile, then thanked me over and over at the end of the day for allowing her to be a part of the festivities.

After being awash in the thanks and gratitude of so many this Thanksgiving, I find myself to be the most grateful of all. I’m grateful for the many blessings in my life, for the opportunity to work in a fulfilling job, and for the amazing people I meet every day—guests, volunteers, colleagues, advocates—who teach me so much about life, about justice and about love.

No More Breakfast – The Real Life Face of Budget Cuts

By Daryl Foriest

Back in June, the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry lost close to 50 percent of our annual budget after reallocations of state funding. As the Director of Meal Services at the Community Kitchen, I have been struggling with this loss of funding every single day since that time.

As painful as it is for me to face the affects of budget cuts, I just can’t compare my pain to what the New Yorkers we serve are going through – especially now.

Just about one month ago today, the Community Kitchen was forced to suspend our breakfast service – which served hot meals to 150 people every Tuesday and Thursday.

Though cutting two meal services may seem like a small sacrifice to some people, what most people don’t understand is that the New Yorkers who come to the Community Kitchen are people who have already factored in every hot meal they get here into their monthly budget. They are so careful to make sure they can pay rent and pay their bills that any single meal lost is a big deal. The meals we provide are a major part of their lives.

What feels the worst to me is thinking about the parents. The kids who come here don’t know they have it so bad. To them, this is just how they eat. For most of the parents, they don’t just have to deal with the loss of meals. They have to think and find a way to replace those meals so that the loss doesn’t hit their kids. But sometimes it’s impossible to protect the kids.

At our last breakfast, an eight-year-old girl named Sabrina came with her mom. They are regulars, so I knew to take them aside. Sabrina’s mom doesn’t speak English, so I had to tell her that she couldn’t come here for breakfast anymore. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I tried, but I just couldn’t stay to see the mom’s reaction. I already saw what it meant to Sabrina, and I couldn’t watch her figure out how to tell her mom.

The Food Bank is committed to continuing to provide soup kitchen meals and food pantry pickups at the Community Kitchen five days a week – and we hope to bring breakfast back as soon as we can. Please consider making a donation to support the Community Kitchen today. Thank you!

A Lesson in Grace from a Food Stamp Recipient

By Rebecca Segall

After spending my summer as an intern at the Food Bank For New York City, I now know almost every statistic there is about food poverty in the city. But to understand what – beyond the numbers – that poverty truly means, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those relying on food assistance. While I did my best to be empathetic, I had a difficult time imagining such a humbling experience.

I’ve been vegetarian for years, and though it isn’t essential to my survival, it is a big part of living the way I want to. But in a position of need, I felt I wouldn’t be able to refuse any available food, especially food rich in protein. I decided that in my hypothetical life of food poverty, vegetarianism would be a necessary sacrifice.

That is, until I met Susan. On a trip to conduct interviews with people who have been helped by the Food Bank, I was surprised by how easily I could relate to a woman from Queens’ earnest account of poverty. It wasn’t until Susan mentioned she was vegetarian that I better understood a bit of why I could relate to her so well. After a lifetime of produce and tofu, Susan was not about to give up important parts of herself just because her circumstances had changed. To make this work, she uses her food stamps, which the Food Bank helped her apply for, at farmers’ markets.

Susan not only survives but pushes herself to practice the values important to her, even if they demand a greater struggle. I admired her determination and, thanks to her story, understood the Food Bank’s goal more deeply. It is not just to provide food, but to provide the means to live with dignity.

I will remember Susan, and hope to maintain my own values in the face of obstacles with the grace and perseverance that she displayed.

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