BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
By Samantha Katel (second row, far left)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" In honor of MLK Day, I went with my mother to Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem to make lunch for children who are hungry. Not just any children--kids who are homeless or live in shelters and can't afford to buy food or necessities. The director of the Community Kitchen told all of us volunteers that it's especially hard for them during the winter. He told us about a woman and baby that he saw walking outside in the cold with no place to go.
The volunteers were given bright orange MLK "Weekend of Service" T-shirts, buttons and wristbands, as well as plastic gloves and hair nets for cleanliness. Then we were put to work, assembly line-style, packing lunch bags. Half of us made sandwiches; the other half made chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. My job was to drop little balls of batter onto about 40 trays before they were put into the ovens. I was careful not to eat any of the finished cookies. It was tempting because they smelled so delicious, but I didn't want to take any away from the homeless kids. The lunch bags included a sandwich, potato chips and a juice box. Messages of love and luck were written in markers by a group of girl scouts who came up from Brooklyn.
There was one special moment that I'll never forget. As I was scooping the cookies into baggies, I looked up to see our new mayor, Bill de Blasio! He thanked us for our service, spoke to the TV cameras that were there, and then rolled up his sleeves to help us with the lunches. The mayor spoke about how we should help others, not just one day a year, but every day. It was really fun and a great feeling to know that I was helping people who are in need and have nowhere else to turn. It was a perfect way to honor Reverend King.
Samantha Katel, 12, is a seventh-grader at the Mandell School in Manhattan.
By Heather McGreevy
When I joined Food Bank, I knew I'd have the opportunity to help repack at our Warehouse, prep meals at our Community Kitchen & Food Pantry, and lend a hand at some of our member agencies throughout the city. But one thing I never expected to do was to serve as a taste tester.
During the winter months, pureed pumpkin is a hot ticket at food pantries. So it's no surprise that our member charities would offer their clients a recipe for it, specifically pumpkin pudding. But when we learned that the sugar content for the pudding recipe was too high, our nutrition team was tasked with coming up with a healthier alternative. The catch? The new recipe needed to have a quick prep time and clients had to be able to make it with ingredients available at a pantry. Jennifer Horan, a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables nutritionist at Food Bank, had not one, but three recipes up her sleeve.
In her quest to find a nutritious way to use pumpkin puree, Jennifer had come up with three different pumpkin soups. She invited me and a few other Food Bankers for a taste test. We would give each version a try and vote on our favorite. My first thought: How different can pumpkin soups be? Quite different, it turns out--and delicious. After the first spoonful I was blown away. I had met the pumpkin soup-making queen! Jennifer made three incredible soups, each with a different flavor profile. Curried pumpkin soup? Hand it over! Pumpkin soup spiced with cumin? Give me more! Creamy pumpkin soup with a hint of cinnamon? Call me a convert! Jennifer wowed us with her ability to take simple, low-cost ingredients and turn them into something delicious and nutritious.
Did I think I'd wind up as a soup taster when I came to work at Food Bank? No way. Am I glad I got to experience firsthand one of the best things we do at Food Bank--bring good, healthy food to New Yorkers in need? Absolutely!
Want to taste the winner for yourself? Here's the recipe we voted #1:
Creamy Pumpkin Soup with a Hint of Cinnamon
*If using nonfat dried milk (NFDM), mix 1 1/2 cups water with 1/2 cup NFDM and add to recipe.
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 chopped garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
- 1 ½ cups low-fat milk*
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- In a large pot, heat ¼ cup chicken broth over medium heat.
- Add onions, garlic and brown sugar. Cook until soft, stirring often.
- Add the rest of the broth, ½ cup water, salt and pepper. Turn up heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring often.
- Turn down heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.
- Stir in pumpkin, milk and cinnamon. Cook for 5 more minutes.
- Serve and enjoy!
Makes 4 servings.
Heather McGreevy is the Volunteer Engagement Manager at Food Bank For New York City.
by Alyssa Herman
Last week I experienced a moment that shook me to my core. In preparation for a press conference, we arranged a table with the amount of food people can afford with the current allotment of food stamps. There was just one package of chicken. I thought to myself, I feed my kids chicken three times a week. Imagine having only one chicken for the entire month. Then we took away $90 worth of those groceries -- that's how much Americans will lose each month as a result of massive food stamp cuts.
As I helped remove foods one by one from the groceries until we reached the $90 mark, I found myself thinking about the New York City mothers who have to make these hard choices for real. With each item I took from the table, I became more and more emotional. Suddenly I was one of those mothers, and I couldn't imagine having to make such horrible choices on a regular basis. The fresh strawberries were the first item to go. Then I had to take away the clementines. Next, the peanut butter, coffee, olive oil and milk. And finally, that one chicken. By the time we'd completed the display, there was barely any fresh produce on the table. As for protein, we were left with canned beans. How is that supposed to feed a family for an entire month?
Food Bank For New York City has been on the forefront of fighting against cuts to food stamps for months, and during the press conference we released disturbing data about the impact of the cuts.
With kids of my own, I know how important it is for children to have fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, grains and other nutritious foods. I suppose that's why I became so emotional. All I could think about were the mothers who have to decide what foods they're going to sacrifice each month and the children those sacrifices impact the most. Resources affect choices -- I know those moms want to give their kids milk! As emotional as I became, I'm grateful that I took part in setting up the display. Seeing how much people are really losing because of food stamps cuts resonates so much more than 30-second sound bites. That food equals real meals lost, and sometimes people need to see it with their own eyes to get how big of a loss it is for the 1.9 million New Yorkers who rely on food stamps to survive.
Alyssa Herman is the Chief Development Officer at Food Bank For New York City.
Super Bowl parties are loaded with fun. They're also loaded with snacks that are high in fat and added sugar. It's easy to consume an entire day's worth of calories during the game, so our CookShop team has come up with a healthy snack alternative. This recipe has been tested and approved by our 40,000+ CookShop participants throughout New York City. It's sure to score big with football fans young and old!
Three Bean Fiesta
Serve this bean salad with whole grain chips for a flavorful, protein filled dip!
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 15-ounce can red beans
1 15-ounce can chickpeas
1 15-ounce can corn
4 teaspoons honey
½ cup cilantro
⅕ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
- Cut red bell pepper in half. Remove stem and seeds. Cut into thin strips.
- Remove skin from garlic cloves. Cut into small pieces.
- Cut limes in half.
- Open cans of black beans, red beans, chickpeas and corn. Pour into colander and rinse thoroughly. Transfer to large bowl.
- Cut red bell pepper into small pieces and add to bean and corn mixture.
- Squeeze juice from limes into small mixing bowl.
- Tear cilantro into very small pieces.
- Whisk honey, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper with lime juice.
- Pour dressing over bean mixture and stir to combine.
By Stephanie Alvarado
One day more than seven years ago, just before I began studying to become a nutritionist, a former co-worker excitedly offered me some carrots from her local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In simple terms, a CSA enables people in urban areas to buy a "share" of produce grown by local farmers. I thought her enthusiasm was a little strange. "A carrot is a carrot," I told her. "Who cares if it's from a CSA?" Eager for me to try them she said, "No! It is so not the same, Stephanie." When I saw the bunch of carrots I said "Ew, what a mess. All that green stuff sticking out of it." In my experience, carrots were always cute, bright, orange baby carrots in a bag. When I learned that this is how carrots actually looked when picked from the ground I was surprised. That is not how you find carrots in our hometown of the Bronx.
I wondered where she'd bought her produce, since there surely weren't any farms in our neighborhood. I realized that if I wanted to study nutrition, I'd have a lot to learn. I didn't even know what real produce looked like, much less how it benefits the body. I needed a better connection with food, and thinking about that began to bring up some childhood memories.
Sunday dinners at my grandmother's house were memorable not only because the food was delicious, but also because it was a bonding experience--with both family and food. My grandmother prepared her meals attentively. She understood the ingredients she was using and instinctively knew how to cook them. She connected with food. My grandmother grew up in small mountain town in Puerto Rico, and she cooked with produce and herbs grown in her own backyard and locally in town. She brought this relationship with food to the United States in the 1940s and maintained the traditions because it was all she knew.
My relationship with food was the exact opposite. A product of my environment, food translated to value menus, drive-thrus or anything quick and cheap. There was a clear disconnect. Reminiscing about those Sunday dinners made me realize that I was missing out. So I slowly began to try different fruits, vegetables and herbs at farmers' markets, and I've become more comfortable using them. I've learned to bond with food--literally. Slowing down and taking the time to pick the best tomato or variety of basil is enlightening, and for me at least, also therapeutic.
Today, as a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City, I am grateful to now share this knowledge with my fellow New Yorkers who struggle with the same challenges, lack of knowledge and access to fresh produce as I once did. Our JSY workshop participants learn about the benefits of local produce and taste low-cost recipes using various vegetables. They also learn about farmers' market locations in their neighborhood, where they can find local produce. This past year we were also able to give folks Health Bucks, $2 vouchers provided by the NYC Department of Health that are redeemable for fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets. The most rewarding part for me has been the positive reaction when someone tries a new vegetable for the first time and says, "This is delicious; I'm going to try it for dinner tonight." Now that's inspiring!
The good news is that urban farms are sprouting up all over the Bronx. The next step on this journey for me is gardening. In a concrete jungle, picking your own produce is not really common. But as a foodie, growing my own fruits and veggies is the ultimate goal. And, of course, sharing the knowledge with my fellow New Yorkers.
Stephanie Alvarado is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetable Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.
By Alyssa Herman
For 30 years, Food Bank's mission has been to end hunger in our great city. But we can't accomplish this Herculean feat alone. This work requires the collaboration of many partners--an approach that Food Bank has long embraced. Over the course of the past three decades a long list of partners and supporters have joined us in helping struggling New Yorkers keep food on the table.
Now our governor, Andrew Cuomo, is using the same strategy with the creation of the New York State Anti-Hunger Task Force, which brings experts, officials and advocates to the same table. His reasoning is powerfully simple: We can do more by working together than we can by working individually. Collaboration of this type, he explained, "can enhance the effectiveness of our fight against hunger by better coordinating the significant public and private resources already dedicated to this important issue."
Governor Cuomo is making sure that Food Bank For New York City has a seat--and a leading voice--at the table by appointing our President and CEO, Margarette Purvis, to Chair the Task Force.
The launch of the Task Force couldn't come at a more critical time: 2.5 million New Yorkers are having a hard time affording food for themselves and their families, and 1 in 5 children in New York City rely on emergency food providers to eat. It is appalling that a city of such wealth has so many people living in poverty, struggling to afford a basic necessity of life.
As Margarette put it when the announcement of her appointment was made, "Since the Great Recession, hunger has reached unprecedented levels in our state and city. Recent cuts to the vital food resources that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) provides low-income New Yorkers make this a time of particularly urgent need. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 New Yorkers who are eligible for food stamps do not receive them. The creation of the Task Force will serve to strengthen New York's response to hunger and bolster our safety net."
I couldn't agree more. Ending hunger means much more than simply providing emergency food to people in need. It also means finding ways to shore up the resources that help keep people off food lines in the first place. It means developing income-based strategies that will help lift people out of poverty. The Task Force will tackle these issues and more as it works to achieve three specific goals: maximize Federal funds for the state's anti-hunger efforts by increasing participation in SNAP and universal school meals; increase outreach through innovative and strategic public/private partnerships; and better leverage New York farms to improve access to healthy food, create jobs and stimulate the local economy.
A broad array of experts will join Margarette in this undertaking, including anti-hunger advocates, service providers, hunger and nutrition experts, representatives of the agriculture industry, local government and education officials, representatives of the nonprofit and private sectors, and members of Governor Cuomo's cabinet. I'm confident that by working together, Margarette and these leaders will come up with viable solutions to help alleviate hunger in our city and our state.
For more details about the launch of the Anti-Hunger Task Force, please click here.
Alyssa Herman is the Chief Development Officer at Food Bank For New York City.
By Caitlin Fitzpatrick
Food Bank For New York City's signature nutrition education program, CookShop, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year! On Saturday, November 2, nearly 800 teachers, parent coordinators and school staff new to the program helped us celebrate the milestone at our CookShop Training Conference. Their enthusiasm for healthy eating was contagious, and it was great to see how eager they all were to learn about CookShop's nutrition education curriculum.
Margarette Purvis, Food Bank President and CEO, got things off to exciting start by introducing a video about CookShop that helped bring the program's mission to life. Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, kept the enthusiasm going with a warm welcome address that primed the crowd for the day's activities.
Through workshops, hands-on cooking demos, and one-on-one interaction with their peers, attendees gained the tools they'll need to bring the CookShop program to their schools, and help children and families learn about nutrition. These teachers are joining 1,000 other teachers in more than 1,800 other classrooms across all five boroughs who will give their students the knowledge and skills necessary to make healthy food choices.
We would like to thank all our CookShop teachers, leaders and coordinators--old and new alike--and wish everyone a fun and successful CookShop year!
Caitlin Fitzpatrick is Nutrition and Health Services Associate at Food Bank For New York City.
By Margarette Purvis
There are moments in life when you must decide to stand and fight, and THIS is one of those moments. At a time when so much is needed to eradicate hunger, attention has been spent on other issues. But attention MUST be paid to the massive cuts to SNAP (aka food stamps) that took effect earlier this month. These cuts will have a devastating impact on 47 million Americans--including 1.9 million New Yorkers--who rely on food stamps to keep food on the table. Hunger is going to increase dramatically in New York City and across the nation, and thousands of jobs may be lost. The real risk of even more cuts--$40 BILLION worth!--will mean an unprecedented crisis like we've never seen before.
Food Bank For New York City has been battling these morally bankrupt cuts to SNAP for months: raising our voice in opposition, making people aware of the threat, joining with like-minded partners to spread the word, and giving New Yorkers the tools needed to participate in this important fight.
We cannot fight this battle alone. A single voice can speak loudly, but a collective of voices gets heard. A single hand can take action, but millions of hands can activate change. What we need right now is awareness and activism on the ground. When there is understanding of what's at stake and a commitment to get involved, anything is possible. There is still time to make your voice heard. If we simply wait for Washington leadership to do the right thing, we may be waiting a very long time. Neither the White House nor Congress stepped in to beat the November 1st countdown. So it's up to us to do all that we can to affect change. We've certainly been doing that here at Food Bank. I'm incredibly proud of the way our Food Bank family, made up of a citywide network of charities, partners and supporters, have stepped up for this cause.
I want to thank the more than 80 national, state and local organizations around this country that have partnered with us via HungerCliff.org, a national online information and action resource that we launched to raise awareness and mobilize Americans. These critical partners are pushing out our shared platform through their own vast networks, furthering our important message. The partnership of all the organizations that have signed on to this cause has been invaluable in expanding our reach and making sure the stories of the neediest among us get the attention they not only deserve, but require. Help us send a clear message to Congress that cuts to SNAP are unacceptable by sending a pre-written letter - Act Now!
Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez.
By Beau G. Heyen
With drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) looming, Food Bank For New York City has been diligently working to engage and inspire New Yorkers to speak out against this threat. We created and launched HungerCliff.org, a national online resource, to help people take action. We packed a bus full of supporters and headed to Washington, DC for our second annual Anti-Hunger Advocacy Day. While these and many other activities have helped to get the word out, we realized that we were still missing an important opportunity to reach everyday people right here on the streets of New York City.
When the idea of street teams first came up, I have to admit, I wasn't completely sold. New York City is a fast-paced place. Who has the time to stop and listen to a stranger on a street corner? However, after several conversations with my fellow Food Bankers, it became clear to me that advocacy really does need local attention.
So one of my colleagues and I took our message to the streets at the Brooklyn Borough Hall GrowNYC Green Market. Unlike those pesky campaigners who use a hard sell, we opted for a more subtle approach. With smiles on our faces we simply held up signs that read, Ask me how the Farm Bill impacts New Yorkers and Ask me how SNAP cuts impact New Yorkers. Dozens of people stopped to read the signs and speak with us.
Much to my surprise, it was easy to get people engaged and fired up. Hearing that SNAP recipients across the country will see a decrease in benefits come November 1st was just a starting point. Sharing the devastating impact of SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill moved people to take fliers, visit HungerCliff.org on their smart phones, and even join our Thunderclap, a social media tool that allows people to post a united message on Facebook and Twitter, right then and there. If you'd like to volunteer at an upcoming GrowNYC Green Market, click here.
Beau G. Heyen is a community mobilization consultant at Food Bank For New York City.
by Angela Ebron
The minute you meet 7-year-old Makenna, you know that she's a little girl on a mission. At an age when other children are focused on play, she's focused on service.
We learned that firsthand earlier this month when Makenna and her mother stopped by Food Bank to make a very special delivery: an $18 donation. Makenna had saved up the money herself--$36 in all--to give to two charities: an aquarium that had been damaged in Hurricane Sandy and Food Bank. Because of Makenna we'll be able to provide 90 meals to New Yorkers in need.
Makenna is no stranger to Food Bank. She's enrolled in our CookShop program at PS 139 in Brooklyn, and takes the nutritional lessons she learns there very seriously. She's so into healthy eating that she was even named captain of her school's salad bar. Makenna created a training program for all of her helpers and proudly told us that "no one gets by me until they've been trained."
Sometimes the biggest gifts come in the smallest packages, and Makenna has given Food Bank so much more than money--as our President and CEO, Margarette Purvis, made clear in her thank you letter:
Thank you so much for visiting us at Food Bank! All of us truly appreciate that you chose our organization to be one of the two charities you're supporting. I know that it wasn't easy saving $18 and we will make sure that it goes a long way to help other little girls who need it. Because of you we can provide 90 meals!! Thank you so much Makenna. I know that the Aquarium feels the same way about you as we do. I didn't know about the damage Sandy caused to the home of those beautiful fish. Thank you for educating me. You are kind and thoughtful...two of the best traits in great people!
I'm glad you liked the special Food Bank pin and bags that Mr. Dan gave you. Those items are for our very special partners, and now that you've made both Mr. Daryl and Mrs. Sharon cry (I told you he would, but she caught me by surprise) you have a very important role that only you can do for us. I really need for you to do for others what you did for all of us! You reminded us of the simple joy found in serving others. The pride in your eyes reminded me that instead of worrying about all that I HAVE to do, I will celebrate all that I GET to do for this mission that we both love!
I will let my team know about your suggestion of adding more color on the walls of our community kitchen to make the many children we serve feel more comfortable and less sad! That was a GREAT idea. Thank you for thinking of us as a part of your plan to help others. We are thrilled to help you be the leader you were CLEARLY made to be! Have a great school year!
Angela Ebron is Food Bank For New York City's writer and editor.