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


A Carrot Grows in the Bronx

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.

Governor Cuomo Taps Food Bank to Helm Anti-Hunger Task Force


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.


CookShop Turns 20!

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.

Awareness + Activism = Change

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.

Taking the Farm Bill to the Street

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.

A Little Girl's Gift


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:

Dear Makenna:

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!

Margarette Purvis

------

Angela Ebron is Food Bank For New York City's writer and editor.

Helping Kids in a New Way

by Angela Ebron

All of my volunteer experiences over the years have involved children--by choice. I've worked with various social service groups to tutor elementary school kids from low-income families who were considered "at risk." (Although I prefer my colleague Beau's more accurate way of putting it: "at promise.") I've also performed front desk triage at an organization in New York City that has been helping teens in need become successful adults for more than 40 years. Now, as part of Food Bank For New York City, I get to continue serving children, but in a whole new way.

I recently volunteered at our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem with the rest of Food Bank's Marketing and Communications team. We spent the day stocking pantry shelves and preparing dinner. As I placed fresh vegetables into bins, put frozen meats into the freezer, folded utensils into napkins, and dished piping hot chicken into food containers for that day's dinner service, I thought about all the families who would come through the doors later that afternoon to get a hot meal or bags full of groceries to take home.

In the past, I worked with kids one-on-one. That's what I've always loved most about volunteering -- having an immediate connection. There's just something so gratifying about building a bond with a child who is relying on you. But helping out at our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry made me realize that I can still have a huge impact on children's lives, even if they're not right there with me. One in 5 children in New York City relies on a soup kitchen or food pantry to eat. So the hours I spent helping stock shelves and prepare meals made a real difference in a child's life that day. And knowing that is every bit as gratifying. If you'd like to volunteer too, click here.

Angela Ebron is Food Bank For New York City's writer and editor.

A Cartwheel for 1,000 Meals

by Angela Khabeb

I am the pastor of a rural congregation in Delphos, Ohio, and this summer our VBS (Vacation Bible School) theme was "Big Apple Adventure." We invited the children to bring an offering each day during our four-day program. This year, in keeping with our New York City theme, we designated our offering to Food Bank For New York City. I have the children the goal of $100 in four days. After I extended the challenge, a little girl raised her hand enthusiastically and asked, "Pastor Angela, what if we raise more than $100?"

Now, I don't know how it happened, but all of a sudden I heard my own voice blurt out, "If you raise more than $100, I'll do a cartwheel right down the center aisle of the church!" Whoa, famous last words, right? Well, the children raised more than double that amount! And, yes, on the last day of our VBS Big Apple Adventure I did do a cartwheel. And believe me, what my gymnastic maneuver lacked in grace and ability, I clearly made up for in effort.

Wouldn't you know it? Some kids shouted out, "Two cartwheels for $200!" I sure wanted to do a second cartwheel, but my body disagreed. It was just like Jesus said, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." The next day, a parishioner asked me about the cartwheel rumor. I told him, "It was no rumor. In fact, I think I pulled something." He quipped, "Yeah, it's called your stupidity bone." He may have been on to something. Nevertheless, after a hot bath and a couple of pain pills I was good as new. After all, it was for a great cause. Thank you Food Bank For New York City for the awesome work that you do. Many blessings to you and your mission to God's people.

Reverend Angela Khabeb is the pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Delphos, Ohio.

Walking a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes

by Leonie Oostrom

I was in for a bit of a rough ride when I decided to try the Food Stamp Challenge and live on $31.50 for a week in New York City. I'll be the first to admit that my cooking skills are pretty low-level. As a college student, I've been on an unlimited meal plan in student dorms for two years. The closest I get to cooking in a given week is attempting to wilt spinach on the dining hall panini press.

With my lack of cooking expertise, I turned to Google for advice. I found some affordable recipes that seemed relatively healthy. The only problem: they required a slow cooker, six pans, a variety of spices, not to mention hours of time. I had none of those things, so my menu for the week consisted of oatmeal for breakfast, tomato and mustard sandwiches for lunch, and pasta with a sauce full of frozen vegetables for dinner. Sometimes I made eggs; an apple was a treat. It was difficult planning meals on just $31.50 a week and my culinary creativity seemed to diminish because of it, especially as a vegetarian. Fresh produce is expensive and I couldn't figure out how to work lots of it into my budget.

How would I sum up the week? Hard. By day four I was sick of oatmeal. I felt sluggish from the lack of produce. I gained a few pounds from all the processed carbohydrates I ate to stay full. And when I messed up a meal (which I did often), there was no throwing it out and ordering a pizza; I ate it.

This was all expected. What I didn't expect was the way my mental space was affected. Thoughts of food constantly filled my mind. They say that to understand someone you should walk a mile in his or her shoes. And that's what I did. I walked a mile. Just one mile, and then I stopped. When the week ended I was able to buy the food I'd been craving. People who rely on food stamps to feed themselves and their families don't have this luxury. To really understand their struggles, I would need to run a marathon in their shoes.

After this challenge, I'm filled with such awe for the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who live, week after week, on this budget. Their resilience astounds me and also pains me, because it shouldn't be necessary. We must do more to end hunger in New York City.

Leonie Oostrom, a junior at Harvard, is a summer intern in Food Bank's Government Relations department.

Change One Thing This Summer!

By Sarah Troncone

Marcus Garvey Park was abuzz with kids running through sprinklers, playing on the playground, and riding their bikes when I arrived on Monday afternoon. I was there to check out Food Bank For New York City's "Change One Thing" truck, which launched that day. Brightly colored with sparkling orange slices, it was hard to miss. The "Change One Thing" truck's fun vibe welcomed teens and kids in the neighborhood to stop by for free water, healthy snacks such as sunflower seeds and dried fruit, healthy recipe booklets, fun prizes and a chance to win items like tickets to a major league baseball game through a social media contest.

"Change One Thing" is a social marketing campaign that educates teens on how to eat healthier by changing just one thing at a time rather than overhauling their entire diet. It can start with one healthy choice per day. The program helps guide teens toward practical, nutritious choices they can make without breaking their budget or disrupting their social lives.

The "Change One Thing" truck will be in dozens of places that teens congregate during the summer, including recreation centers, pools and basketball courts throughout the five boroughs until the end of summer. For truck locations, follow @FoodBank4NYC on Twitter or search #ChangeOneThing. The multimedia initiative includes a city-wide advertising campaign, mobile, digital, and broadcast, as well as social media.

For more information, visit Food Bank's Change One Thing page or EatwiseTeens.org.

Sarah Troncone is the Marketing & Social Media Coordinator at Food Bank For New York City.

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