Bank on It: A Food Bank Blog
By Victoria Dennis
I've been lucky to volunteer in Food Bank's Benefits Access department, where I get to serve hundreds of low-income New Yorkers each month. Here at the call center we help clients gain and maintain access to SNAP (food stamp) benefits, refer clients to food pantries and soup
kitchens, and provide community outreach services. We also offer information and referral services to clients facing a broad range of problems. Since this fall, we have provided special support to neighbors affected by super storm Sandy.
Like many others in Food Bank's community, I volunteer because hunger and food insecurity are pressing problems for far too many of our neighbors. Many of our clients are facing chronic, acute or life-threatening illnesses, and often crippling health care costs. Others are working parents whose low-wage jobs can't adequately cover the cost of food for their families. Every day, the Food Bank helps reduce hunger and food shortages for New Yorkers in need.
My relationship with Food Bank began as a donor--and I'm still one today. But two and a half years ago, as the devastating effects of the recession deepened, I decided to try my hand at volunteering here.
The rewards of volunteering at Food Bank are immeasurable. I am especially gratified when I can help older low-income New Yorkers, a growing number of whom now find the costs of living and food a huge challenge. It's an honor for me to work with our highly skilled Benefits Access staff. They are patient, respectful and compassionate while serving anxious, food insecure families who face a daunting bureaucracy. Another highlight of my work has been my contact with the unsung heroes: the wonderful volunteers in our network of food pantries and soup kitchens who give countless hours of service.
In the current fiscal climate, our most vulnerable neighbors face daunting challenges, and hunger is a very real problem for them. But a group of concerned citizens can make a difference. And that's why I volunteer at Food Bank. If you'd like to volunteer too, please click
Victoria Dennis, LMSW, is a Benefits Access Call Center volunteer at Food Bank For New York City.
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.
by Thomas Neve
The day after Hurricane Sandy, my staff and I brainstormed and came up with a plan to help people affected by the storm. Luckily, Reaching-Out Community Services (RCS) is far enough from the shore line that we weren’t impacted by the severity of Sandy and were able to respond immediately. But many other communities around us weren’t as fortunate. We had never experienced such a level of devastation this close to home, so we were winging it. First, we assisted Coney Island’s Councilman Dominick Recchia, who had set up a relief site, by providing him with a truckload of food and water from our pantry stock.
Then we turned to social media. It was the perfect tool to put the rest of our plan into action. We spread the word on Facebook and Twitter that we were setting up two tents on the corner of Neptune Avenue and West 33rd Street as a hurricane relief site, and we needed volunteers to prepare hot meals and bring water and supplies for distribution.
What I saw the next morning when I arrived at the site brought tears to my eyes. There were dozens of cars with people unloading sandwiches, soup, hot trays of ziti and backed beans, fruit, water and much more. It was a feast. All in all, we mobilized more than 200 volunteers who helped us distribute hot meals and supplies from the tents for two days. And they’ve been helping us every since.
We then secured a storage unit outside our facility to create a hurricane relief drop-off center, and we’ve also secured a space, with help from Community Board 11, where we store additional supplies. A large portion of the food we’ve received has come from Food Bank For New York City, which sent trucks and trailers full of products. The RCS staff and hundreds of volunteers loaded their own vehicles with food and delivered them to disaster sites in nearby areas. It was a convoy of cars, filled with people determined to help their neighbors in need.
This outreach is still in effect and will continue as long as it’s needed. With Food Bank’s help we are able to distribute goods to our closest neighbors in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, and also help people in Red Hook, Gerritsen Beach, Staten Island and the Rockaways.
We have visited some of the most harshly impacted areas. The residents had no electricity, water or heat; their personal possessions were destroyed; and some even lost their homes due to severe damage. We have witnessed their sadness and sense of futility, but through it all they continue to display a heartfelt gratitude about the supplies they receive from us, and a spirit of resilience and strength that I know will see them through the difficult months ahead.
Thomas Neve is the Executive Director of Reaching-Out Community Services in Brooklyn, a member of the Food Bank For New York City network.
by Debbie Calderon
When you hear about disasters like Hurricane Katrina, you feel terrible. But many people don’t do anything to help if they’re not directly affected. And I’ll admit, I was one of them. Hurricane Sandy changed all that. It’s the reason I’m here in Queens today volunteering.
Although I live on Long Island, I’m still a New Yorker. The city is part of my extended community and Sandy hit home for me. I wanted to contribute, to make a difference, no matter how small. Being here is an opportunity for me to lend a hand to people whose lives have been turned upside down by this storm.
Earlier this morning I helped sort donated products and now I’m packing emergency pantry bags with non-perishable food, water and other supplies to give to families in need. It’s been a busy and hectic day, but the experience is much more rewarding than I ever imagined. It feels great to be able to give back, and I’ve met wonderful people who are here for the same reason as me—to help others.
This experience has given me a whole new perspective and has changed me on a very deep level. If another disaster happens in the future, I’ll think back to this moment and I’ll respond differently than I did in the past. I’ll volunteer or donate money—I’ll do something. The one thing I won’t do is sit on the sidelines feeling bad about what’s happened. I’m going to get involved and make a difference!
Debbie Calderon, 22, is a college student from Long Island who spent a day volunteering at the Community Church of the Nazarene in Far Rockaway, one of Food Bank For New York City’s partners for Hurricane Sandy relief.
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.
By Jamee Brody
One of the times I most often think about the New Yorkers who rely on the Food Bank is when I go grocery shopping. I try to clip coupons as much as possible, and do at times feel I have to be vigilant with my food budget and avoid all the treats calling out to me from the snack aisle – but in the end I know that my cupboards will always be full. Too many New Yorkers don’t have that luxury.
That’s why I love the Food Bank’s Check-Out Hunger campaign. From October to January, when you go shopping you’ll find one of the easiest ways to give I’ve ever seen – just look for our Check-Out Hunger placards at the register and have your cashier scan the bar code on our donation slips. A donation will then be added to your bill – and remember, a donation of just $5 helps the Food Bank provide 25 meals to New Yorkers in need. I did mention it’s easy, right?
Last year, Check-Out Hunger raised more than 850,000 meals for New Yorkers in need with the support of more than a dozen supermarkets including ShopRite, Foodtown and Fairway. This year, I am excited to see what we can achieve with specialty retailers Fishs Eddy and Eataly joining our supermarket partners to help our most vulnerable neighbors.
And thanks to Eataly, Check-Out Hunger isn’t just at the check-out line – it’s online. The 'Eataly for the Food Bank For New York City' campaign gives online shoppers a chance to donate to the Food Bank while shopping for delicious Italian goodies. So while you are at Eataly.com getting the perfect Italian inspired gift box for the 'Italian' cook in your family you can also add to your shopping cart '25 meals for a child in need'. I hope with the support of follower New Yorkers and nearly 200 participating specialty/supermarkets stores to have another successful Check-Out Hunger year.
Visit Eataly.com and shop 'gift boxes' and add to your cart a gift for New Yorkers in need.
To find a participating Check-Out Hunger location near you please visit http://www.foodbanknyc.org/events/check-out-hunger
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.
by Mallory Shan
|From top: Bank of America volunteers repacking food at our Bronx warehouse for delivery to soup kitchens and food pantries; A volunteer tax preparer, trained through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; Volunteers helped set up and prepare and serve food at Tang’s Natural’s 2010 NYC Dumpling Festival, which helped raised more than 220,000 meals for New Yorkers in need
We are celebrating National Volunteer Week
here at the Food Bank For New York City! This week-long celebration, April 10–16, honors the more than 16,000 individuals who have contributed to the Food Bank’s fight against poverty and hunger by donating their time and skills — to help prepare taxes
for our city’s working poor
, provide nutrition education
in low-income neighborhoods, serve meals at our Community Kitchen
and throughout our citywide network
, repack food at our Bronx warehouse
and help our events and campaigns
The founder of National Volunteer Week, CEO of Points of Light Institute and co-founder of HandsOn Network Michelle Nunn, expresses the heart of this national week as one that “focuses attention on the impact and power of volunteerism and service as a vital part of civic leadership.” This resonates with one of my co-workers, Pan Venkatraman, and me since we are year-long volunteers through Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Civic Corps Program. We have witnessed, through our engagement with volunteers and being volunteers ourselves, the potential for change that lies in service.
Stay tuned to our blog throughout the week for stories of just a couple of our amazing volunteers. We hope that their testimonies will inspire many more to join the Food Bank and volunteer to fight hunger!
Mallory Shan is assisting the Food Bank’s Volunteer Services department for one year as an NYC Civic Corps Volunteer
by Ashley Goforth
As the Communications & Marketing Assistant at the Food Bank, I have the opportunity to hear about a lot of amazing opportunities going on to support not only the Food Bank For New York City but also the larger hunger relief community. My personal favorite are the ones that combine helping yourself and helping others in a quick and FREE way. Quick because time is a valuable asset (especially for New Yorkers, right?) and free because sometimes the only thing we can give to the causes we love is our support.
The Biggest Loser’s Pound For Pound Challenge is one of these opportunities. The Pound For Pound Challenge is dedicated to getting people to pledge to be bit healthier and lose a few pounds. It takes just a few seconds to select your state and your local food bank and take the pledge. And for each pound that you pledge for us, 11 cents will be donated to the Food Bank. Another great element is, if you are already at your ideal weight and fitness, you can pledge to maintain that weight and The Biggest Loser will still donate!
This is also great opportunity to help yourself. It’s an opportunity to make a promise to put your nutrition and health needs on your list of things to do this spring. The Food Bank is quite the advocate of making healthy choices. The Food Bank’s CookShop nutrition education program and our Change One Thing campaign all provide needed nutrition education to New Yorkers. And we are very proud to have won Feeding America’s Mightly Apple award for the most fresh produce collected for distribution five times in the past six years.
Aligned with our mission to provide New Yorkers with the tools they need for change – the Pound For Pound Challenge allows you to recognize that you want to strengthen your own nutrition education.
Who doesn’t love a free way to help fight hunger AND be active in your nutritional health? I don’t know about you, but to me it’s much more fulfilling to take the stairs everyday while reminding myself that I pledged to lose a few pounds in the name of hunger relief.
by Alexandra Talbot
As the founder of CHEFs for Schools, Inc. – a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that strives to alleviate food inequality in underserved communities by training and placing student volunteers in worthwhile service opportunities - I am proud to support CookShop, the core nutrition education program of the Food Bank For New York City.
Since CHEFs’ inception in the spring of 2007, we have made tremendous strides toward our goals of improving food security, alleviating childhood obesity, and achieving food justice by supporting equal access to affordable and nutritious groceries. Our partnership with the Food Bank has been a major factor in reaching these goals.
I learned about CookShop while working as an intern at the Food Bank in the fall of 2008. CookShop is a federally-funded nutrition education program that helps children, teens and adults develop nutrition knowledge and cooking skills through hands on workshops. The program currently reaches approximately 30,000 New Yorkers, including students in more than 1,300 public elementary school classes and after-school programs.
I quickly realized the benefits of placing volunteers in CookShop Classroom for Elementary School, the program’s component for students in pre-K through second grade. Volunteers enjoy building relationships with elementary school students in underserved neighborhoods, and seeing the impact of their work as the children develop new skills and learn to make healthy food choices. By assisting the teachers, volunteers make CookShop even easier to implement, helping to increase the number of participating classrooms.
CHEFs helps recruit CookShop volunteers through a unique cultivation program in which university chapters offer educational, free and fun events that address bring students together around a shared interest in food issues. For example, the CHEFs for Schools’ Chapter at NYU offers free monthly cooking classes that unite and educate prospective and current volunteers around delicious, nutritious meals, while the CUNY Hunter Chapter will launch a food justice speaker series in the fall.
CHEFs aim is to recruit the most capable and motivated volunteers possible. The CookShop program requires no prior experience in public schools or food preparation, welcoming a wide variety of volunteers ranging from college students to working professionals. CookShop provides all volunteers with free training to improve their understanding of food preparation skills with elementary school children and demonstrate how to support a classroom during exploratory and cooking lessons.
I hope that you will join us in our efforts. Please take a moment to review the Food Bank’s various volunteer opportunities, including CookShop, and learn more about CHEFs’s efforts to impact food justice through volunteerism.