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

Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

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.

Spread the word! Free summer meals

By Jacqueline Wayans
Reposted from

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.

How Does a Family of Three Survive on a Food Stamp Budget?

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

3 eggs

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.

Reviving the Bronx, One Workshop At a Time

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.

Why I Volunteer

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 here.

Victoria Dennis, LMSW, is a Benefits Access Call Center volunteer at Food Bank For New York City.

A Place of Their Own

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.

A Gift for Brooklyn

by Pat Curtin

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.

Fiscal Cliff Deal a Mixed Bag: More for Low-Income Families, Less for Nutrition Education

by Triada Stampas

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

New Outlook on an Old Relationship

By Margarette Purvis

 “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.”



 From the Desk of Margarette Purvis



Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez






Picking Up the Pieces

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.

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