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Food Poverty in NYC Soars as Recession Hits Home

Half of NYC Residents Having Difficulty Affording Food in 2008, Doubled Since 2003…Reports Food Bank For New York City  

Robin Hood Challenges City to Help Fight Hunger… Matching Grant to Provide 15 Million Meals

New York, NY…December 16, 2008 — NYC Hunger Experience 2008 Update: Food Poverty Soars as Recession Hits Home, a report released today by the Food Bank For New York City shows that over the past five years, the number of New York City residents having difficulty affording needed food has spiked to nearly 4 million — doubling from approximately 2 million in 2003 — representing almost half of all New York City residents (48 percent). Approximately 3.5 million New Yorkers are concerned about needing food assistance (soup kitchens, food pantries and/or food stamps) during the next twelve months, including 2.1 million who have never accessed it before.  This mirrors the finding that 3.7 million New Yorkers would not be able to afford food within three months of losing their household income. This alarming prospect may become all too real with unemployment at a 15-year high of 6.7 percent and predicted to reach 9 percent by the end of 2009.

In response to the enormous strain being placed on the Food Bank during this time of unprecedented food shortages and a downward spiraling economy, Robin Hood is matching every dollar that is donated to the Food Bank up to $1 million, 2- to-1. That means a total of $3 million to  help put food into the Food Bank’s food distribution system in support of the Food Bank’s network of 1,000 assistance programs.  Every dollar donated to the Food Bank provides five meals, therefore, the Robin Hood matching grant can potentially provide 15 million meals for New Yorkers in need. 

“The results of this report are devastating. Never in the history of the Food Bank have we seen so many New Yorkers struggling to put food on the table, a trend we anticipate will worsen in the coming year. Already the level of need has reached crisis proportions,” said Dr. Lucy Cabrera, President and CEO of the Food Bank For New York.  “The extraordinary level of support from Robin Hood will help provide meals for those people hardest hit by food poverty and challenges all New Yorkers to step forward to help those less fortunate.  The Food Bank’s resources are already stretched beyond capacity.  Robin Hood’s generosity is making it possible for us to continue to help those who depend on us every day.”

According to a joint statement released by Food Bank Board Members Mario Batali and Stanley Tucci, “If ever there was a time for New Yorkers to step up, this is it!  The challenge to the city presented by Robin Hood is unprecedented.  Clearly, they recognize that hunger in this city has reached epic proportions.  We implore all New Yorkers to dig deep and give what they can, and Robin Hood will triple the impact of that donation.”

In keeping with other Food Bank research, the youngest and oldest New Yorkers are the most vulnerable populations to food poverty:

  • 56 percent of households with children are experiencing difficulty, up from less than one-third (32 percent) in 2003;
  • And the number of seniors experiencing difficulty more than doubled over the past five years, from less than one-quarter (23 percent) to almost half (47 percent).

A further troubling trend is the increased difficulty among the baby boom generation that will soon be aging into retirement, many of whom may not have enough time to offset lost retirement savings as a result of the current financial crisis. The number of New Yorkers ages 50 to 64 experiencing difficulty affording food doubled from 25 percent to approximately one-half (49 percent) in the past five years. Approximately half in this age group are concerned about needing food assistance during the next year. This concern is likely rooted in the finding that 42 percent in this age group would not be able to afford food within three months of losing their household income.

The report also shows that the tentacles of the financial crisis are penetrating deeper into communities across the city as the number of middle income households experiencing difficulty affording food has tripled: among households with annual incomes between $25,000 and $49,999, difficulty increased from 21 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in 2008 (jumping 40 percent within the past year alone), and among households with annual incomes between $50,000 and $74,999, difficulty increased from 14 percent to 43 percent (jumping 59 percent within the past year alone).

Further, the current economic climate is driving the increase in food poverty.  The new poll report is in keeping with the state of the economy:

  • Average monthly job losses were more than 400,000 from September through November as compared to approximately 80,000 earlier in the year, pushing the unemployment rate up from 6.5 percent in October 2008 to 6.7 percent in November 2008 — the highest since 1993 and up two percentage points from a year ago
  • Job losses in November reached 533,000 (the largest monthly loss since the 70s). In the U.S., 10.3 million people are unemployed (up by more than 3 million since last year). In addition, under-employment levels (part-time workers who want full-time employment) rose to 12.5 percent in November (the highest on record since tracking began in 1994), an increase of 621,000 people since October and up by 2.8 million from last year.
  • In total, there are 19.6 million people in the U.S. who are unemployed or under-employed — approximately one out of every eight people in the labor market
  • Economists expect unemployment to continue to rise and predict that it will increase to 9 percent or more in 2009.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call for all New Yorkers. As the recession deepens, even more will be required of all of us", concluded Dr. Cabrera. “Congress and the new administration must act swiftly in January on a stimulus package that saves jobs, bolsters the incomes of hard-working families, puts food on the table, and provides state and local governments with the support to do the same.”

History of the Food Bank’s NYC Hunger Experience Report:
The NYC Hunger Experience Report series tracks annual trends in difficulty affording food among New York City residents. The Food Bank For New York City contracts with Marist College Institute for Public Opinion to conduct telephone interviews with a random and representative sample of city residents. The research includes six years of trend analysis from 2003 through 2008. Data for 2007 were collected in February 2008 and released in NYC Hunger Experience 2008. This report, NYC Hunger Experience 2008 Update: Food Poverty Soars as Recession Hits Home, (reflecting 2008 data collected in November) was expedited in order to gain information on how the current recession is impacting New York City residents.

A copy of the report can be obtained here.

About Robin Hood:
Robin Hood holds steadfast to a single mission: fight poverty in New York City. Robin Hood is changing the fates and saving the lives of our neighbors in need by applying investment principles to charitable giving. We find, fund and create the most effective programs and schools serving families in New York City's poorest neighborhoods. To ensure that every dollar is invested wisely, we rigorously assess each program using independent, third-party evaluators to hold each program accountable. Because Robin Hood's board of directors pays all administrative, fundraising and evaluation costs, 100 percent of donations goes directly to organizations helping impoverished New Yorkers build better lives.
To learn more about Robin Hood, or to make a donation to help Robin Hood fight poverty, please visit:

About the Food Bank For New York City:
Food Bank For New York City recognizes 25 years as the city’s major provider of food to New Yorkers in need.  The organization works to end food poverty and increase access to affordable, nutritious food for low-income New Yorkers through a range of programs and services that focus on food sourcing and distribution, education and nutrition, financial empowerment, disaster relief, policy and research.
Food Bank For New York City sources and distributes food to more than 1,000 food assistance organizations, assisting the approximately 1.3 million New Yorkers who access emergency food. The Food Bank provides food safety, networking and capacity-building workshops; manages nutrition education programs for schools, after-school and emergency food programs; operates food stamp outreach and education programs; operates senior programs, a soup kitchen and food pantry; coordinates the largest Free Tax Assistance program in the country; and develops policy and conducts research to inform community and government efforts to end food poverty throughout New York City. For every dollar donated to the Food Bank, 96 cents goes toward food acquisition, distribution and programs.

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