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.
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.
The "Fiscal Cliff" deal struck by Congress at the start of 2013 made a number of changes to the tax code – many of them beneficial for residents with low household income, especially low-income families. With Food Bank research finding 70 percent of low-income families in New York City struggling to afford food, this comes as positive news for the New Year. Regrettably, alongside these gains, Congress enacted immediate and dramatic funding cuts to nutrition education programming for these same families, including our own CookShop and Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables programs. Significantly, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), as it was called, extended several important provisions that were set to expire, including expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, a higher credit rate for the Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps families pay for college. In addition, ATRA prevented an increase in taxes from kicking in for individuals earning less than $400,000 (and married couples filing jointly earning less than $450,000). Although some of these gains may be offset by the two-point increase in the payroll tax deduction, combined, these changes mean low-income tax filers will not see their tax rates increase or their available tax credits drop. In a surprise move, however, Congress decided to make an immediate 48 percent cut to this year's remaining funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) – a loss of more than $4.8 million for New York State's nutrition education programs that provide SNAP (food stamp)-eligible New Yorkers with the knowledge, resources and skills to make healthy food choices on a limited budget. While Food Bank will make every effort to minimize the impact of this loss on the more than 100,000 New Yorkers our nutrition education programs reach, a mid-year funding cut of this magnitude can't help but be felt. Worse yet, if Congress does not act, more cuts are on the horizon: WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) is scheduled for an eight percent cut on March 1, and SNAP benefits (food stamps) are threatened in the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations. If these benefits are slashed, more New Yorkers struggling to keep food on the table will be forced to turn to our city's already overwhelmed food pantries and soup kitchens. Your advocacy can help. Please contact your Representatives today and tell them to restore SNAP-Ed funding in the next fiscal cliff deal, and protect WIC and SNAP from cuts!
Triada Stampas is Senior Director of Government Relations at Food Bank For New York City
“Resting. We are Resting Now.
Eyes Closed. Feet Together.
Our Hands are STILL.
Resting. We are Resting Now.”
These were the words said everyday at naptime by one of my kindergarten teachers, Miss Williams. There I lay during that hour on my red and blue mat. It was my favorite time of the day. Not because I EVER went to sleep…I didn’t. It was my favorite because of Miss William’s little speech said to us over and over again. She would often walk over to me and rub my back as if to say, It’s time to rest, Maggie. But even that thrilled me too much to be able to sleep. You see, to me Miss Williams was the first brown fairy princess…way before Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog.” In my 6-year-old mind, Miss Williams was Cinderella and teaching in Jackson, Mississippi was merely her day job. She was as pretty as the women in my family, but still different. Her voice was light. She was incredibly sweet, almost like a little girl herself. Being from a family of alpha females, I’ll admit that I was mildly obsessed with this figure and style that I’d never known, yet deeply adored.
Since learning of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut I have thought of Miss Williams and my other kindergarten teacher, Miss Wall, constantly. They were the first two women that I recall spending great time with who didn’t share my last name. I remember the safety and comfort my classmates and I felt whenever we saw their faces. I also remember that on my first day Miss Wall complimented the braids my aunt had double twisted for me. I was so proud of those braids. All these years later, to still remember the moment a person noticed the detail that made up a 6-year-old’s world is proof positive of how special teachers are.
Our country is reeling at the great devastation that has rocked Newtown, Connecticut. Across the country people are grappling with the discovery of teachers being on the front lines and what that means. Should they be outfitted with guns? Bulletproof vests? Is the answer bulletproof backpacks? So many questions for a problem that baffles the core of all of us. I won't pretend to know the answer, but I know what the reality involves.
Teachers have always been on the front lines. They are the primary witnesses to crimes against children every day. They see the reality of poverty and hurt in the form of hunger, no coats during winter, and a lack of book bags, school supplies and so many other items that most of us take for granted. The teachers who unfortunately lost their lives in the tragic events in Newtown are heroes. They’re being called heroes because they ran toward harm, attempting to shield children from the wretched ugliness that entered their world. Where I will disagree with the majority is when their heroism began. I believe that well before last Friday they, like teachers doing a yeoman's job in Bedford Stuyvesant and the South Bronx, were already heroes. Teachers in the poorest communities of our city commit their lives to shielding and protecting children from the ugliness that too often makes up their worlds. The strength of the Food Bank's CookShop program, which serves 40,000 children, relies completely on the resilience and commitment of teachers. It’s their creativity that enables them to find ways to incorporate nutrition education into their curricula, ensuring that our city's neediest children get more of what they need. We certainly wouldn’t have our 11 campus pantries in schools today without the commitment and dedication of teachers and school administrators.
My heart and mind have been fixated on the sense of peace and safety that’s been robbed from children, parents and teachers in classrooms across our country. I wonder if teachers know how much they mean to all of us and how much we owe them for the work they’ve put towards our past and future. If I could find Miss Williams or Miss Wall I would first thank them and then assure them with the following:
“Acting. We are ACTING now.
Eyes OPEN. Feet Positioned.
Our hands are READY.
ACTING. We are ACTING now.”
Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez
Posted At: December 17, 2012 6:12 PM | Posted By: Four Eyes
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.
Posted At: December 17, 2012 5:46 PM | Posted By: Four Eyes
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.
Streets of Coney Island are now deserted post Sandy.
"Hours have passed and it seems like this line gets longer and longer". These are the words that I spoke to a colleague as we walked around a neighborhood and emergency pantry in Coney Island.
The community we visited is still without power, and the citizens who call this community home are lined up at food trucks and pantries to get much-needed food. When we visit communities impacted by Sandy, we visit our member agencies and others who could make great on-the-ground partners. Today, we learned that not only has our member lost their site due to flooding, today is their last day in the school that they've called home for the past three weeks. With the move will come a loss of the generators supplying the only source of indoor light that we've seen for blocks.
From a long lens you notice the darkness, the fact that NO stores are open for business and that lots of people are milling around. A closer view let's you hear children who are not happy that they have to use the public, portable toilets with the adjacent sinks...again. The short view shows you that the mothers milling about are dragging carts, trying to determine the location of the next service site. They're doing this because the lack of power and phone service means that charities don't have an ability to provide mass communication.
As we say good bye to the program's manager, I notice that the first and second sites have something major in common - the scent of MOLD is clear. I remember it from every home I entered in Biloxi and New Orleans when I worked on homes during Hurricane Katrina. I'm not the only one to smell it, but our members and the city of New York find themselves setting up where they can in order to serve those in need.
What's very clear is that people are so very grateful for the help, but they are also very tired. You can feel it when talking to them. I'm proud that the food being provided is from Food Bank, but I’m incredibly frustrated that we're still needed and that these families still have to go through this. To give these families a bit of a reprieve, we'll be sending buses here to take them to lunch and dinner on Wednesday, November 21, as part of the special “Our Table Is Yours” event for seniors and families throughout New York City who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. The event, hosted by Food Network, Cooking Channel and Southern Wine & Spirits of America, will benefit Food Bank For New York City’s ongoing emergency response efforts in the wake of Sandy.
While my frustration and that of our supporters is real, we're also comforted by knowing that we can do anything that reminds families that they are cared for and that people are thinking about them. The view from where I sit allows me to see people operating at their very best. Ensuring that the Food Bank plays any part of that makes me feel incredibly blessed.
Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez
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.
Perhaps you saw it on ABC 7 or News 12, or maybe you read about it in the Amsterdam News, AM New York or The New York Times. Word was out over the summer about the Food Bank’s Change One Thing food truck, which was on the streets of New York City for nearly 8 weeks during the summer.
The truck is part of our Change One Thing social marketing campaign, now in its third year. “Change One Thing” is a simple message for teens that emphasizes the ease of making healthy decisions. One small step each day is enough to make a difference. Each year, we’ve tried to cut through the barrage of unhealthy messages aimed at teens in New York, beginning with graffiti murals and radio-sponsored events. This summer, we decided to take another step, bringing an interactive message to teens where they hang out: pools, parks and summer events. The truck distributes small food items to taste, including low-calorie fruit pops, fresh fruit and water, as well as recipe books. It also houses a video game, designed specifically for this campaign. The game, a mix of nutrition-related trivia and quick food decisions, was a hit at all of our stops this summer, especially amongst those that won prizes for their skills!
I was always excited to visit the truck. We’re so used to seeing questionable representations of teens on the media, it’s nice to see real NYC teens gathered and engaged around something positive. The first day the truck was out in the city this year was in Brownsville, at the Betsy Head pool. As I showed up on the elevated 3 train, I was able to see a crowd gathering in front of the truck. Walking from the station to the park, I saw a steady stream of kids and teens walking away from the park with big smiles on their faces, and healthy snacks in hand. Our first day was an unmitigated success. Maybe you saw the truck at a community event, park or pool over the summer and were convinced to Change One Thing!
Federal spending cuts have slashed the single biggest source of emergency food in New York City. This year alone, food pantries and soup kitchens across the five boroughs lost a staggering 11 million meals, depriving those residents in most desperate need. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) has been the mainstay of New York City’s emergency food network, constituting nearly half of the food that is distributed to low-income New Yorkers in past years. Food pantries and soup kitchens have told us they used to plan their meals around the food available in TEFAP; right now, their shelves are nearly bare.
Facing a shortfall of 11 million meals, emergency food providers are being forced to stretch resources and reduce services at a time of unprecedented need.
Nearly 3 million New York City residents have difficulty affording food. Households with children, the unemployed and low-income New Yorkers are struggling the most. Those 11 million meals could have gone to children, seniors and others in need – instead, food pantries and soup kitchens are coping with unprecedented need while their main source of food has dwindled.
Emergency food cuts have stricken communities in all five boroughs, with losses averaging 37 percent.
Bronx: 2.2 million meals lost
Brooklyn: 3.8 million meals lost
Manhattan: 1.4 million meals lost
Queens: 3.0 million meals lost
Staten Island: 0.4 million meals lost
You can help. There are two things you can do to help us out of this crisis:
Advocate. The Farm Bill, our nation’s key anti-hunger legislation, is up for renewal this year. Critical food resources like TEFAP and the food stamp program (SNAP) are at stake. Contact your representatives in Washington and tell them to help keep food on the table for our neighbors in need.
Donate. The long-term relief needed from the Farm Bill will take months or longer to materialize. Your donations will provide immediate help for those at risk of going hungry.
Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.