BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
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.
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.
By Amy Thompson
After Superstorm Sandy, Food Bank For New York City worked hard to provide food and services to New Yorkers in hard-hit communities who were desperate for our assistance. But as hard as we worked, we knew we could do more. That's when serendipity stepped in. Our partner Toyota came to us wanting to get involved. At first I thought, "What do a car company and a hunger relief organization have in common?" As it turns out, a lot! We both share a passion for helping people.
Over the past few months, we have worked with the Toyota Production System Support center (TSSC) on the "Meals Per Hour" project, a collaboration borne of Food Bank's constant search for innovate ways to get people the food they need. The idea was simple: TSSC would help us apply the manufacturing philosophy Toyota uses to build cars to our food pantries in order to feed hungry New Yorkers faster and more efficiently. For eight weeks, Food Bank provided food to Metro World Child, one of our longtime member agencies, as well as the staff to pack and distribute it into emergency boxes for hungry families in Far Rockaway, a community ravaged by Sandy. TSSC was on hand every step of the way to train us and implement their principles.
In the warehouse, where the food boxes were packed, loaded in the truck, and prepared for distribution, TSSC and Food Bank got busy making changes. They suggested that Metro switch from square boxes to rectangular ones to ensure that each box was filled with less air and more food. We also implemented an assembly line box-packing system that dramatically reduced packing time. Changes were even made at the point of distribution in the Rockaways, which reduced the amount of time it took volunteers to hand out boxes. What were the specific outcomes of all the TSSC improvements? Watch the Meals Per Hour video and see for yourself! With each viewing of this video, Toyota will donate the cost of one meal to Food Bank For New York City, up to 1 million meals!
I had fun helping with the distribution each week in Far Rockaway, but I also learned more than I was expecting to, and I know others at Food Bank have as well. As a result of this project, Food Bank has already begun to apply TSSC principles to our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem, as well as to some of our member agencies across the five boroughs, with plans to do more. TSSC has also agreed to come back and help us improve the efficiency of our warehouse, which is the largest wholesale food distribution center in the world. It will be quite a job, but I know from firsthand experience that we'll see great results!
Amy Thompson is a Capacity Associate and works on the award-winning TEN program at Food Bank For New York City.
By Zoe Cooper-Caroselli
When I was growing up the 4th of July meant sandy toes, time with family and friends, fireworks, and delicious barbeque chicken and corn on the cob. I remember the taste of that chicken, with its crisp skin and juicy flesh, and the smell of smoke coming off the grill as I tried to balance sweet summer corn on my paper plate. Food is an intrinsic part of holiday celebrations, and what we eat as children can impact our food choices for the rest of our lives.
As a Nutrition and Health Services Associate at Food Bank, I have the opportunity to help shape how kids think about food because of my work with CookShop, Food Bank's largest nutrition education program. Through CookShop Classroom's fun, hands-on workshops we're able to reach children age 5 -12 in more than 1,700 elementary and after-school classes, where they learn to enjoy nutritious food and make healthy choices every day. Kids discover where food comes from, how plants grow, why whole foods are good for their body, how to prepare simple, healthy recipes and much more. The best part of my job is hearing the feedback from teachers and parents who tell me what an incredible impact CookShop has in changing kids' eating habits.
Getting children to eat better comes down to two things: Make it tasty and make it fun. The healthy and delicious Red, White & Blue Yummy Yogurt Parfait below fits the bill on both counts. It's the perfect 4th of July treat for kids and adults alike. Fruits taste their best – and are the most nutritious – when they are in season and don't have to travel too far from the farm to our plates (the same goes for veggies too)!
I've adapted this recipe from our first grade CookShop curriculum, swapping other fruits out in favor of colorful seasonal blueberries and strawberries. Almost all the recipe preparation is appropriate for kids, but make sure that an adult cuts the strawberries. Here's to celebrations, family traditions, and making good food choices that will last a lifetime. Happy 4th of July!
Red, White & Blue Yummy Yogurt Parfaits
1 32 oz container low-fat plain yogurt
¼ cup honey
1 pint blueberries
1 pint strawberries
Wash hands and all produce well. Cut strawberries into small pieces. Combine strawberry pieces and blueberries in a bowl. Put yogurt into a separate mixing bowl. Add honey to yogurt. Stir to combine. Spoon a layer of yogurt into cups. Spoon a layer of fruit on top of yogurt. Add another yogurt layer followed by another fruit layer. Serves 4.
Zoe Cooper-Caroselli is a Nutrition and Health Services Associate at Food Bank For New York City.
By Laura Mindlin
I knew that living on $1.50 per meal a day would be difficult, but by day three of the Food Stamp Challenge, I was exhausted. It wasn't just because of the small portions of food I'd been eating to avoid hitting day six with nothing left but a half empty jar of peanut butter; making $31.50 in groceries stretch a whole week was tougher than I imagined. My exhaustion instead came from constantly thinking about food.
I consider myself a foodie, so this was not a big change for me, but the nature of my thoughts had changed. On the days leading up to the challenge, I was kept up at night thinking about how I would spend that $31.50. Which foods would last me the whole week? Would I be able to get even a sampling of fruits and vegetables? What would I have to sacrifice? Those first few days I managed to pull together some pretty decent dishes with the foods I bought: pasta, kidney and black beans, tofu (best bang for your buck), peanut butter, brown rice, mango, oatmeal, broccoli/carrot mixture, eggs, chicken drumsticks, tomatoes, cantaloupe, cereal, red pepper, sweet potatoes, and an eggplant.
Despite my naïve expectations, my food-related stressors didn't dissolve when I finally made my purchases. They actually led to some frustration, as well as a few other emotions that I couldn't quite put my finger on. But I kept those feelings inside. I'd sit in a café and watch with wide eyes and outrage as the person next to me threw away half of a perfectly good sandwich.
Other times, I had to explain to friends that I was a little grumpy because I hadn't eaten much that day, and I was exhausted by all of the thoughts circulating in my mind. But then I'd stop and remind myself why I took on this challenge in the first place. Grumpiness? Mental exhaustion? Who was I to use these excuses when there are people living on a food stamp budget week after week, maybe even working two jobs, simply to provide for their family? I knew that by the last day of this challenge I'd likely have gained many new insights--not just about the hardworking New Yorkers who rely on food stamps to get them through difficult times, but also about myself. I'll share more of the lessons I've learned in my next blog.
Laura Mindlin, a sophomore at Skidmore College, is a Government Relations summer intern at Food Bank For New York City.
By Jacqueline Wayans
Reposted from InsideSchools.org
As a former food stamp recipient and a mom who uses great savvy to feed my three kids, I was encouraged and empowered at this week's Hunger Crisis Forum to hear Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City say: "No one should feel shame just because they don't have enough money [to adequately feed their family]." The Hunger Crisis Forum took place the same week that the annual Free Summer Meals Program [PDF] kicks off.
An all-female panel of CEO's discussed rising food prices and the increasing number of parents struggling to feed their families. In fact, they said, many educated and middle class families find themselves using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time.
At least 80% of students in NYC public school qualify for free lunch. In response to the growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture is spending $400 million on the Summer Meals Program which starts in New York City on June 27. Yet only 16 percent of eligible children are expected to participate. Why? According to speakers at the forum, that "stigma" and "embarrassment" often keep people from taking advantage of the services.
The Food Bank for New York City and the National Dairy Council, which are helping to administer the summer meals program, are launching campaigns to raise awareness about the program using volunteers, flyers and even New York Yankees baseball players to get the word out.
Jaime Koppel of the Children's Defense Fund shared her personal experience as a child receiving supplemental food assistance and noted that children who are hungry may not perform as well at school. "Food insecurity in the early years has been linked to students' low test and class performance [as early as] the 3rd grade," she said. Beth Finkel, director of AARP NY noted that increasing numbers of grandparents are raising grandchildren with their limited social security income and need extra food support.
When my children were younger, I remember breathing easier during the school year because they received breakfast and lunch at school. However when summer rolled around, I had to figure out how to adjust my menu and stretch the dollars to provide all their meals. Though I tried my best, not all of those meals were the most nutritious. Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies put it best at the forum when she said, "Resources affect choices, often times when you see that child with a bag of chips in the morning, that was the best that mother could do."
The Summer Meals Program provides a way for families to get healthy meals. It starts on June 27 - the day after school is out - and goes through Aug. 30. Any children 18 years old or younger may get a free breakfast and lunch at participating schools, pools and parks. No ID is required. Breakfast and lunch are also available to all children attending summer school. For more details, and a list of sites see the DOE's website. This year there will also be three mobile food trucks visiting parks and beaches at lunchtime.
For those who don't need the services, spread the word to those who need a helping hand. You can also support the Food Bank with a donation. If you donate by July 12, Delta Air Lines will match your gift, up to a total of $50,000.
Jacqueline Wayans is a co-author of the New York City Best Public School Guides. The mom of three public school children, she graduated from Columbia University in 2008.
by Madison Cowan
That's the question I tried to answer this week. My family and I took Food Bank For New York City's Food Stamp Challenge to stand in support of New Yorkers in need, and hopefully help stop pending cuts to the food stamp program. We lived on a budget of just $31.50 per person for the entire week--that's how much food stamp recipients receive.
This wasn't a massive stretch for someone like me who has experienced the depths of poverty and has personally survived with nothing at all. The difference this time, of course, is that when the week was up so was the hardship of eating on such a miniscule budget. Struggling families don't have that option. For them, the situation is all too real, especially when children are factored in. Kids require so much more nutritionally than $1.50 per meal allows. Families who rely on food stamps to put food on the table live with this reality on a daily basis, and there's no excuse for it in a country of such wealth.
I kicked off the challenge with a trip to Trader Joe's in Brooklyn to buy my groceries for the week. The maximum budget for my family of three: $94.50. I bought fresh fruit and vegetables, free range chicken, vegetarian chorizo, oats, yogurt, almonds, brown eggs, two types of cheese and bread, miso paste, black beans, noodles, peanut butter, jam, two gallons of milk and more. I ended up spending $93. While I was able to purchase nutritious food, not everyone has a proper market with affordable prices in their community. That's one of the things that makes living on a food stamp budget so challenging for many people.
For our first dinner of the challenge, I made spicy sweet potato and vegetable chorizo hash with fried egg. I fancy veg chorizo as it's tasty, inexpensive and good for you (it's made out of soy protein). If you'd like to give this dish a try, here's the recipe:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ sweet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
5 medium garlic cloves, sliced
2 large spring onions (white parts only), sliced. Reserve tops.
½ vegetarian chorizo sausage
2 tsp Worcester sauce
½ tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
Heat olive oil and butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add sweet potatoes and cook halfway (about 3 minutes). Stir in garlic and onions; cook another 2 minutes. Crumble in the chorizo and season with Worcester, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook another 2 minutes, reduce heat and keep warm. Fry eggs sunny-side up. Portion the hash, top with eggs and serve with thinly sliced reserved spring onion tops and Tabasco. Serves 3.
The challenge proved more difficult as the week went on, but we managed to come up with some satisfying dishes within budget, like oatmeal and blueberries drizzled with a touch of maple syrup and a lick of cream, and homemade ramen noodles with soft-boiled egg. We didn't take a "break" for Father's Day either. That day was the same for us as it was for many low-income families: no going for brunch, no toasting with wine or popping out to get ice cream. Just pancakes for breakfast, tuna melts on rye and black bean soup later in the day--and we were grateful for it.
My family and I were committed to seeing this challenge through. It was a way for us to help Food Bank bring awareness to an extremely important issue. And we got it done for those in actual need.
Chef/author Madison Cowan is a member of Food Bank For New York City's culinary council.
by Stephanie Alvarado
When I read in a New York Times article that the Bronx, my hometown, was rated as the unhealthiest county in New York State my heart sank. While the news was extremely unsettling for me, it intensified the fire in me to continue my journey of providing nutrition education to my fellow Bronxites.
Growing up in the Bronx with a single mom and two sisters, my family and I struggled financially. For the most part we relied on food stamps and WIC for food. Our meals consisted of mainly rice and beans or plantains; they were cheap and kept us full. My mother juggled two jobs, so she also relied on fast-food restaurants to keep us fed since they were inexpensive and convenient. As a teen, I struggled with weight issues and my neighborhood didn't help. It actually made things worse. I was bombarded with corner-store bodegas and fast-food places all serving unhealthy food. I asked my doctor what I could do to lose weight and he recommended a book that introduced me to nutrition. I began researching food and how it affects your health. I was eager to learn more and wanted to share all my newfound information with everyone I knew. The correlation between a lack of healthy food in low-income areas and a high incidence of diet-related diseases suddenly made sense and it troubled me. I'd found my calling and decided to study Community Health and Nutrition in college.
Nutrition education is imperative in communities like the Bronx that lack resources. People need to know that they have nutritional options; they don't have to succumb to the unhealthy food choices surrounding them. Working for Food Bank For New York City as a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) nutritionist is truly a privilege because I'm able to deliver this vital information in low-income areas where it is most needed. Addressing hunger and nutrition education go hand in hand. As a JSY nutritionist, I conduct nutrition workshops and healthy cooking demonstrations at Food Bank's network of food pantries and soup kitchens. Because I have been confronted with the same issues as the people I teach, I'm able to relate to the obstacles they may face in trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. That makes hearing a warm "Thank you" or "I learned something new today" at the end of a workshop all the more rewarding.
In retrospect, I wonder if I, my family and my Bronx neighbors would have made healthier food choices if we'd been educated on nutrition and had healthy options readily available? It's my belief that we should at least have the right to make an educated choice. The Bronx has a long road ahead in terms of becoming a healthy place to live; nevertheless, I have happily witnessed improvements! When I began studying Nutrition at Bronx Community College, I recall walking up Burnside Avenue daily and seeing kids coming in and out of the countless fast-food chain restaurants that line the street, as I once did as a child. Fast forward six years: on that same avenue now sits a NYC Green cart stand that offers low-cost produce and accepts SNAP benefits (food stamps). A few blocks away, a Farmer's Market now runs from July through November, providing local seasonal produce and cooking demonstrations--right on the same street where I have started a JSY nutrition education series at the Davidson Community Center Food Pantry. Someone is listening! I am honored to be a part of this food movement and will continue my responsibility of reviving the Bronx, one workshop at a time.
Stephanie Alvarado is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.
By Victoria Dennis
I've been lucky to volunteer in Food Bank's Benefits Access department, where I get to serve hundreds of low-income New Yorkers each month. Here at the call center we help clients gain and maintain access to SNAP (food stamp) benefits, refer clients to food pantries and soup
kitchens, and provide community outreach services. We also offer information and referral services to clients facing a broad range of problems. Since this fall, we have provided special support to neighbors affected by super storm Sandy.
Like many others in Food Bank's community, I volunteer because hunger and food insecurity are pressing problems for far too many of our neighbors. Many of our clients are facing chronic, acute or life-threatening illnesses, and often crippling health care costs. Others are working parents whose low-wage jobs can't adequately cover the cost of food for their families. Every day, the Food Bank helps reduce hunger and food shortages for New Yorkers in need.
My relationship with Food Bank began as a donor--and I'm still one today. But two and a half years ago, as the devastating effects of the recession deepened, I decided to try my hand at volunteering here.
The rewards of volunteering at Food Bank are immeasurable. I am especially gratified when I can help older low-income New Yorkers, a growing number of whom now find the costs of living and food a huge challenge. It's an honor for me to work with our highly skilled Benefits Access staff. They are patient, respectful and compassionate while serving anxious, food insecure families who face a daunting bureaucracy. Another highlight of my work has been my contact with the unsung heroes: the wonderful volunteers in our network of food pantries and soup kitchens who give countless hours of service.
In the current fiscal climate, our most vulnerable neighbors face daunting challenges, and hunger is a very real problem for them. But a group of concerned citizens can make a difference. And that's why I volunteer at Food Bank. If you'd like to volunteer too, please click
Victoria Dennis, LMSW, is a Benefits Access Call Center volunteer at Food Bank For New York City.
By Bonnie Averbuch
Photo Credit: Tim Reiter
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.