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Special Message on Response to Hurricane Sandy from Food Bank For New York City CEO, Margarette Purvis


Greetings friends and supporters:

As the city's major distributor of emergency food for our neediest neighbors, Food Bank For New York City is expected to report to our donors, partners and supporters on the pounds of food distributed and the number of tractor trailors "on the road." On any given day, this is the language of our business and we speak it with great pride and authority. It is what we do. However, since Monday, October 29th, the start of our citywide disaster prep for Hurricane Sandy, “any given day” changed and with that change went the language of old. No longer are we simply in a business of pounds and trucks. Since October 29th, Food Bank For New York City has been in the business of RESPONSE.

RESPONDING to the Reality of Hunger and Poverty: Because the storm descended upon us at the end of the month, New Yorkers caught between a lack of remaining food stamps and impending rent were especially vulnerable. While the news reported a need for water, we knew (and provided) additional items such as protein-rich foods (tuna, peanut butter and canned chicken) along with shelf-stable items like milk and supplies, including batteries and blankets. We started our efforts on the 29th because we understood that disaster preparedness comes at a cost and that cost is typically outside of the ability to pay for MANY New Yorkers. In addition, we knew that as with every natural disaster, people who have never experienced hunger or want are introduced to both in real time. These times are scary and it's our job to serve needs that are known and unknown. As the days and weeks have continued, we’ve formed partnerships and expanded relationships with our government contractors and fellow service groups, ensuring access to needed products like baby formula and vital information covering replacement food stamps and other benefits.

RESPONDING to lack of ACCESS: Our charity partners and staff are not just in NYC communities, we are OF the communities we serve. When the community is hurting, we use our understanding to craft an immediate and dignified response. In the hours immediately before and after the storm, our member engagement team called our community partners, drafted a survey to gather info on their needs and divided themselves into borough-based clusters to personally visit sites in order to assist them in getting back on their feet. Food Bank staff members used their professional expertise to form new pantries for their neighbors to meet pressing and immediate needs. As we learned of our members’ damaged facilities and limited ability to respond, we immediately increased support to charities providing mobile services and formalized on-the-ground relationships to provide the vital services affected communities lacked.

RESPONDING to NEW NEEDS: On “any given day” our business involves charities in every community ordering food from us to plan meals for their communities. As responders, we understood that we couldn't rely on that and had Food Bank's nutritionist step in to ensure nutritious meals and kosher availability for communities. In the end, the work of responding means more than releasing "pounds of food items" to be placed on shelves and in coolers. Work based in response means ensuring food that will build meals for families, IMMEDIATELY, regardless of our members’ or neighbors’ access to power, computers and the wherewithal needed for meal planning.

RESPONDING to a Need to Serve: While our citywide network relies on the good work of volunteers, in a crisis an individual’s need to serve is greatly enhanced. To ensure an effective use of volunteers we immediately assigned crews to our high-volume/high-need partners from Staten Island to Far Rockaway to our Bronx-based warehouse, where products were immediately repackaged for distribution to hardest hit communities. Even with the dispatched crews we understood that there were more ways to serve. We've trained volunteers to answer the calls from New Yorkers needing assistance in determining eligibility for food benefits and more. Most importantly we’ve welcomed the efforts and leadership of our board members who have joined us in fundraising, resource development and event planning for needy families and communities.

So, if it is true that a crisis reveals who we are, we are so appreciative of the lessons taught by Sandy. We know that we don’t do this work alone, we have the support of concerned New Yorkers and our 30-year history has prepared us to be compassionately responsive to our neighbors in need.

We are grateful for the lessons and even more grateful for the journey our supporters will go on with us as we face the coming months of anything BUT “any given day.” To join our efforts, please Donate Now, Volunteer, and Donate Food.

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