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

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.

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