BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
By Gherell Owens
As a Member Engagement Specialist I visit programs every day that distribute food by handing out pantry bags. I encourage them to convert to client choice because it improves the distribution process and offers clients a more dignified experience.
This past winter, I visited Give Them to Eat in the Bronx and spoke with Program Director Rev. Danilo Lachapel and Program Coordinator Maria Vives. They nodded and agreed with me as I gave my spiel, but I still wasn't sure if they'd really make the switch. A few months later, during another visit, Rev. Lachapel asked me to give an impromptu sermon on client choice to the volunteers and clients gathered in the church sanctuary. I was nervous but I did it, and this time I had a feeling that a conversion just might happen. A proclamation that things were about to change for the better was made that day!
Two weeks after my big speech I returned to Give Them to Eat on a cold and blustery day. An equally chilly air of uncertainty still lingered as I set out to complete my objective. And the perfect opportunity was about to present itself. The program distributes an astounding amount of produce from its parking lot, and they had recently come up with the brilliant idea of splitting it into two aisles instead of one to speed up the process and cut wait times. I seized the moment and did the very same thing as a way to introduce client choice to their pantry.
The volunteers and I headed inside and set up two rows of parallel tables, each side topped with the exact same pantry items. As clients entered to "shop" the tables, they ooohed and aaahed, amazed by the change. One after another commented on how much happier they were with the new setup. You could feel their sense of dignity--and that's what client choice is all about.
Gherell Owens is a Member Engagement Specialist at Food Bank For New York City.
Hour Children Food Pantry client Renee
By Abigael Burke
In my work as food pantry coordinator at Hour Children Food Pantry, I see the faces of hunger and poverty firsthand. Our clients here in Long Island City are struggling and we're doing everything we can to help them get through these hard times. But times are getting tougher.
Ever since the November 2013 SNAP cuts, the need in Queens has continued to increase. In one month alone we serve more than 3,000 people. Hour Children is one of only two emergency food providers within walking distance of Ravenswood Houses and Queensbridge North Housing Project, two of the largest low-income housing projects in the nation--home to nearly 8,000 people, including our client Renee.
Born in Queens, Renee lives in the Queensbridge housing project with her two granddaughters. In 2010 she suffered a back injury that rendered her unable to work. Without a paycheck to depend on, it wasn't long before she began experiencing food insecurity and skipping meals so that her grandchildren could eat. Then a neighbor told her about Hour Children Food Pantry. Renee was grateful to find someplace in the community where she could turn for help. Now she no longer has to sacrifice herself in order to feed her grandkids.
She says that her favorite part of Hour Children is the welcoming atmosphere. Our goal is to provide healthy and nutritious food in the most non-judgmental and respectful way possible. That's why our food pantry is client-choice, which enables people to select food in a supermarket-style setting. As Renee puts it, "There is dignity in choice."
Abigael Burke is the Food Pantry Coordinator at Hour Children Food Pantry in Queens, a member of Food Bank For New York City's network of charities.
By Oronde Tennant
With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. But it's definitely worth the effort. The benefits of volunteering with Food Bank For New York City have been enormous--not just for me but for my entire Green City Force team. We've had the opportunity to connect with our community and make it a better place, and also strengthen our ties to those we serve. But don't just take it from me. Here's what my team had to say about our time volunteering with Food Bank.
Amani Coleman: "My experience at Food Bank has been great. The fact that my team and I were able to help families who are hungry is a blessing. I know the hardships that come with not having enough food to eat."
Decatur Goodden: "Volunteering with Food Bank gave me the opportunity to give back to people in need by packing thousands of pounds of food. It also allowed me to network with various volunteer organizations."
John Vicent and Irving Wright: "Repacking food might seem like a tedious task, but it is a very important job that leads to positive results. We had the pleasure of working with other volunteers from other organizations in the area. The highlight of our service was learning the metrics (how much food we repacked). Knowing that we repacked large amounts of food that will go to families in need is a rewarding feeling."
Hector Ventura: "The team and I volunteered for several months and now we are pros at repacking meals for the needy. The whole experience has been superb."
Flormaria Delarosa: "I know that everything we did at Food Bank has really impacted people who have very little. That makes volunteering all the more important."
Daniel Egipciago: "Helping those in need has changed my outlook on the world and I want to continue offering my services to this important effort."
- Robert Malcolm: "I love Food Bank! It was a great and uplifting experience. I'm proud to have made such a difference in the lives of New York City residents in need."
Oronde Tennant is a Team Leader for Green City Force. He and his team of AmeriCorps members volunteered at Food Bank For New York City this year from February through April.
By Caitlin Fitzpatrick
Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate Mexican culture, and honor the country's victory against France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is also the perfect time to enjoy Mexico's enormous food culture! This year, forgo cheese drenched nachos and share this healthy salsa dip – created by Food Bank's very own CookShop team - with your family.
This recipe has been tested and approved by our 40,000+ CookShop participants throughout New York City. We've broken the recipe up into adult prep and child friendly steps, so every member of your family can help with the preparation.
Serve this fruit salsa with whole grain chips for a fruity, flavorful fiesta. Or add it to a chicken, fish or veggie soft taco for a colorful MyPlate meal!
CookShop Peachy Orange Salsa
- 3 oranges
- 1 15-ounce can of peaches
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 lime
- 2 tbsp chives
- 1 bag of multi-grain tortilla chips
Prep for Adults
- Wash hands and all produce.
- Peel oranges and separate segments.
- Remove stem and seeds from pepper. Cut into child-friendly pieces.
- Open can of peaches. Pour into a colander to drain liquid.
- Cut lime in half.
(With the supervision and guidance of an adult)
- Wash hands.
- Cut oranges, peaches and pepper into small pieces.
- Place in a large mixing bowl.
- Squeeze lime juice onto fruit mixture.
- Cut chives into small pieces, add to fruit mixture, and stir.
- Serve with multi-grain chips.
- Once everyone has a serving, count to three and taste together. Enjoy!
Caitlin Fitzpatrick is Food Bank For New York City's Nutrition and Health Services Associate.
by Kathy Berry
After my daughters were grown and I had time on my hands, I discovered the joy of volunteerism. I had always helped out at my girls' schools, but when I fulfilled a major dream and moved to New York City in October 2013 I decided to take a sabbatical so I could do even more. On the recommendation of a friend, I interviewed for a volunteer opportunity with Food Bank For New York City and was lucky enough to be placed in an Event Lead position at the New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF). My first assignment was managing a team of volunteers inside the festival; then I was moved outside to help with registration.
I loved the young people I worked with. The support volunteers were wonderful, and when one of them called me Mama Kathy, my heart sang. The guests were friendly, fun, and excited to be there. Sylvester Stallone came right by me. So did Joe Namath. Each night when I was done with my volunteer duties, I popped into the evenings' events: Burger Bash hosted by Rachel Ray. Tequila and Tacos with Bobby Flay. So much fun, and oh, the food!
My only regret is that I didn't get to chat much with my fellow Event Leads as I was outside and they were inside. But we caught up, giggled, and relived all the fun moments when we did see each other. I have their emails. Hopefully we can connect and have a reunion. More new friends!
I loved everything I did that weekend, and it wouldn't be my last time volunteering with Food Bank. Just a few weeks later I was at their downtown Manhattan office doing volunteer outreach. While I was making my phone calls, Food Bank President and CEO Margarette Purvis gathered the staff for an exciting announcement. NY1 News had just selected the Food Bank For New York City as the "New Yorkers of the Year"! I was moved, humbled, and proud to be helping in any small way that I could for such a wonderful organization. It has become one of my favorite places to volunteer.
Kathy Berry is a healthcare professional who is currently taking a sabbatical to volunteer throughout New York City.
By Jonathan Kong
The story of how I started volunteering began last year when I saw the events of the Boston Marathon unfold on television. After that day, I felt a strong need to help others, so I decided to volunteer at Food Bank For New York City.
My first project was on Coney Island, packing pantry bags at an elementary school for children to take home as part of Food Bank's ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. That was just the beginning. I've also helped out at Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem and I volunteer regularly at other charities within Food Bank's network. At Cathedral Community Cares I help clients get clothes from the Clothing Closet, and at Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger I help make compost and plant seeds in the vegetable gardens. I even appeared in Food Bank's public service announcement, which aired on the NASDAQ building in Times Square throughout the month of September.
When Food Bank issued its "30 For 30 Challenge" last year, challenging volunteers to complete 30 hours of service within the 30 days of September, I decided to take it on in honor of my grandfather, who was in extremely poor health at the time. The first volunteer to reach 30 hours would win a Caribbean cruise--and I won! The cruise exceeded my expectations. There were so many fun activities on board, from Zumba to stage shows to late night dance parties. I had a wonderful time.
Winning a vacation because I volunteer is great, but simply being able to help other people is the real reward.
Jonathan Kong has been a Food Bank For New York City volunteer for nearly a year.
By Peer Deutsch
Being on the frontlines of the war on poverty in New York City is tough. It's really hard to see the elderly, who should be enjoying their golden years, coming to a food pantry for something to eat. It's painful to watch a mother standing on line with her child to get food to take home. What goes through my mind as we serve so many people each week is how much I wish we had milk and eggs for the kids. How I wish we had more protein for the seniors. How I wish we had some chicken and fish for families to bring home. But we do what we can and hope that each effort we make and every service we offer, such as free tax assistance, help accessing SNAP, clothing drives and free school supplies, helps alleviate New Yorkers' burden a little more.
We accept only kosher food donations, which limits the food items we have available. It's sometimes a fraction of the donations other agencies may get. Yet, we do not limit our clientele to people who keep kosher. Everyone is welcome to receive assistance from us--and we wouldn't have it any other way. But we struggle, improvise and do everything humanly possible to put together a respectable pantry box each week.
As we approached Passover we started worrying, as we do each year. How would we possibly help impoverished, kosher-eating families during the holiday season when they can't really substitute peanut butter for a chicken, or a can of tuna for eggs and fish? Food Bank For New York City provided the answer, and it was the single most moving experience I have had in 19 years of serving the public.
Food Bank helped our agency access kosher foods that would serve our clients best. Dr. Camesha Grant and her member services team were tireless and vigilant in getting us foods that have never been accessible to us before. And I mean tireless! I once called Dr. Grant in the evening to leave her a message and she picked up! Each hurdle they encountered was seen as a challenge, not a roadblock. I am so excited to be able to offer substantial food items to our clients for the holidays. But mostly I am excited to know that there is a wonderful current of goodwill and real concern at Food Bank. In every department, someone is always there to help. We have a very capable partner to back us up in this war on poverty.
So to President and CEO Margarette Purvis, Dr. Grant, Renee, Pat, Elizabeth, Angela, Carol, Alyssa, every staff member, every single person filling warehouse orders, every smiling, cheerful truck driver who shows up in freezing temperatures--to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your dedicated work. May God bless you and keep you safe.
Peer Deutsch is Food Program Coordinator at Oneg Shabbos, a member of Food Bank's network of charities.
by Ling Zeng
As a graduate accounting student, I'd been thinking of how I could contribute my knowledge and skills in order to give back to the community. Food Bank For New York City's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offered me the perfect opportunity. However, it was not easy for an international student like me, who wasn't familiar with the U.S. tax system, to get the tax preparation certification. Fortunately, the veteran instructors at Food Bank were really patient and friendly with their teaching methods. And I'm proud to say that I did pass the exam and earned my certification.
Through Food Bank's VITA program I gained hands-on experience interacting with clients. Working one-on-one with people and helping them get all the refunds to which they're entitled is my passion. It's what I want to do in my future career. One of the things I enjoyed most as a VITA volunteer was seeing the smiles come across clients' faces when they realized how much money they were getting back from their tax returns. The sense of honor I felt assisting people who really need help can never be exaggerated.
One thing that I noticed was that many low-income families who need tax assistance are non-English speaking. That language barrier can be a challenge for both the volunteer and the client. Thankfully Food Bank's VITA program does have bilingual volunteers. But they can always use more. So I encourage multilingual speakers to join this important program and help these families in need. It's a wonderful experience.
Ling Zeng is an international graduate student at St John's University, a Food Bank For New York City VITA partner.
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.
by Marlo Dublin
Too often brown rice gets a bad rap. This healthy staple is tasty and nutritious, but it's one item that I've noticed is slow to move from food pantry shelves. Since March is National Nutrition Month, here's a primer on the perfect side dish.
"Are brown and white rice the same?"
The 411: Brown rice is considered a whole cereal grain, and is harvested from a type of grass. During harvest, its husk is removed, leaving it with a complete structure that includes a germ, bran and endosperm. When these structures are removed during processing, the result is white rice.
"Is brown rice really healthier than white rice?"
The 411: Yes! Brown rice is a 100% whole grain and packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, including fiber, protein and iron. Whole grains can help reduce your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and help in weight maintenance. Brown rice is also low in fat, calories and sodium, and is gluten, trans-fat and cholesterol free.
"I don't have time to cook brown rice; it takes forever, and comes out mushy or too hard!"
The 411: Water and timing affect the texture of cooked brown rice. It will likely come out mushy if you cook it in too much water for too long, or too hard if you don't cook it in enough water for enough time. Use these easy cooking methods, both of which serve 3-4 people, for the best results:
Bring 2½ cups water to a boil and stir in 1 cup of brown rice. Then, cover your pan and reduce heat to simmer rice for about 40 minutes. When most of the water has been absorbed by rice, turn the heat off and finish steam cooking rice in the pot with the lid on. In 5-10 minutes, the rice will be cooked and fluffy when stirred.
1100 Watt microwave:
Combine 1 cup of brown rice and 3 cups of water in a 2½-quart microwave-safe dish. Microwave uncovered on high heat for 10 minutes. Reduce power to 50% and continue microwaving rice uncovered for 20 minutes. Allow rice to sit for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork and serve.
"Brown rice is expensive!"
The 411: Research shows that a two-pound bag of long grain white rice can cost $2.69, while the same size bag of long grain brown rice can cost $2.79. For ten cents more, opting to buy brown rice can improve the nutritional quality of our meals.
"My family doesn't like brown rice. They say it tastes funny."
The 411: Combine cooked brown rice with white rice as a way to get used to its wholesome and nutty texture. Over time, add more brown rice in place of the white rice until you are eating it on its own! Or, stir in a splash of coconut milk towards the end of the cooking time to add a tropical flavor to the rice.
Marlo Dublin is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.