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


A Little Girl's Gift


by Angela Ebron

The minute you meet 7-year-old Makenna, you know that she's a little girl on a mission. At an age when other children are focused on play, she's focused on service.

We learned that firsthand earlier this month when Makenna and her mother stopped by Food Bank to make a very special delivery: an $18 donation. Makenna had saved up the money herself--$36 in all--to give to two charities: an aquarium that had been damaged in Hurricane Sandy and Food Bank. Because of Makenna we'll be able to provide 90 meals to New Yorkers in need.

Makenna is no stranger to Food Bank. She's enrolled in our CookShop program at PS 139 in Brooklyn, and takes the nutritional lessons she learns there very seriously. She's so into healthy eating that she was even named captain of her school's salad bar. Makenna created a training program for all of her helpers and proudly told us that "no one gets by me until they've been trained."

Sometimes the biggest gifts come in the smallest packages, and Makenna has given Food Bank so much more than money--as our President and CEO, Margarette Purvis, made clear in her thank you letter:

Dear Makenna:

Thank you so much for visiting us at Food Bank! All of us truly appreciate that you chose our organization to be one of the two charities you're supporting. I know that it wasn't easy saving $18 and we will make sure that it goes a long way to help other little girls who need it. Because of you we can provide 90 meals!! Thank you so much Makenna. I know that the Aquarium feels the same way about you as we do. I didn't know about the damage Sandy caused to the home of those beautiful fish. Thank you for educating me.  You are kind and thoughtful...two of the best traits in great people!

I'm glad you liked the special Food Bank pin and bags that Mr. Dan gave you. Those items are for our very special partners, and now that you've made both Mr. Daryl and Mrs. Sharon cry (I told you he would, but she caught me by surprise) you have a very important role that only you can do for us. I really need for you to do for others what you did for all of us! You reminded us of the simple joy found in serving others. The pride in your eyes reminded me that instead of worrying about all that I HAVE to do, I will celebrate all that I GET to do for this mission that we both love!

I will let my team know about your suggestion of adding more color on the walls of our community kitchen to make the many children we serve feel more comfortable and less sad! That was a GREAT idea. Thank you for thinking of us as a part of your plan to help others. We are thrilled to help you be the leader you were CLEARLY made to be! Have a great school year!

Margarette Purvis

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Angela Ebron is Food Bank For New York City's writer and editor.

A Cartwheel for 1,000 Meals

by Angela Khabeb

I am the pastor of a rural congregation in Delphos, Ohio, and this summer our VBS (Vacation Bible School) theme was "Big Apple Adventure." We invited the children to bring an offering each day during our four-day program. This year, in keeping with our New York City theme, we designated our offering to Food Bank For New York City. I have the children the goal of $100 in four days. After I extended the challenge, a little girl raised her hand enthusiastically and asked, "Pastor Angela, what if we raise more than $100?"

Now, I don't know how it happened, but all of a sudden I heard my own voice blurt out, "If you raise more than $100, I'll do a cartwheel right down the center aisle of the church!" Whoa, famous last words, right? Well, the children raised more than double that amount! And, yes, on the last day of our VBS Big Apple Adventure I did do a cartwheel. And believe me, what my gymnastic maneuver lacked in grace and ability, I clearly made up for in effort.

Wouldn't you know it? Some kids shouted out, "Two cartwheels for $200!" I sure wanted to do a second cartwheel, but my body disagreed. It was just like Jesus said, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." The next day, a parishioner asked me about the cartwheel rumor. I told him, "It was no rumor. In fact, I think I pulled something." He quipped, "Yeah, it's called your stupidity bone." He may have been on to something. Nevertheless, after a hot bath and a couple of pain pills I was good as new. After all, it was for a great cause. Thank you Food Bank For New York City for the awesome work that you do. Many blessings to you and your mission to God's people.

Reverend Angela Khabeb is the pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Delphos, Ohio.

Increased Participation in Summer Meals Proves it Takes a Village

by Roxanne Henry

The Food Resource Action Center (FRAC) recently reported that in 2011 participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP, also known as Summer Meals) was down, nationally, compared to previous years. Summer Meals provides universal breakfast and lunch to all children age 18 and under at schools and other sites in low-income neighborhoods during the summer. Although nationally there was a decrease in participation in the program, New York City saw a 3% increase. Part of this increase may be attributed to a city-wide collaboration where governmental agencies, community-based organizations and hunger advocates, including the Food Bank For New York City, implemented a more grassroots approach by canvassing low-income neighborhoods with localized Summer Meals outreach materials.

Summer Food Service Program
Summer Meals provides universal breakfast and lunch to all children age 18 and under at schools and other sites in low-income neighborhoods during the summer.
In addition to its annual outreach initiatives around Summer Meals (including recruiting member agencies to become distribution sites and on-the-ground outreach) last year, for the first time, the Food Bank For New York City distributed over 100,000 flyers to families with children throughout the city through our approximately 1,000 member agencies.

Although there was an increase in participation in the program, the numbers are still relatively low; participation increased to only 28% last year. This means that we have a long way to go. This year Food Bank is expanding its Summer Meals efforts and continues to work with the larger city-wide initiative to further increase participation in the program.

Thrift, Charity, and Thrice-Cooked Bacon

By Mandy Kessler

Thrice-Cooked Bacon. That was probably the crowd favorite when a group of Food Bank staff enjoyed a communal dinner last week at Mission Chinese Food, the hip new LES outpost, recently imported from San Francisco, where SF foodies haven't been able to stop raving about it since it opened in 2010.

But in truth, it's pretty hard to choose. Everything we had from Kung Pao Pastrami, to Salt Cod Fried Rice, to Stir Fried Sweet Peas, was absolutely delicious. And the Chongqing Chicken Wings — what a tasty, albeit spicy, surprise! Ignoring the chili peppers heaped on top of them, they looked like typical chicken wings, but they sure didn't taste like it. Not at all greasy, just perfectly crispy on the outside, they were tender and flavor-packed inside.

As we had been forewarned by the hundreds of amazing reviews which have piled up since the restaurant opened in May, the food was hot. But for those of us who went in a little afraid of what that meant for our sometimes-weak palettes, we were pleasantly surprised. The spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors, and with plenty of components to balance the heat — like the amazing rice cakes that come with the Thrice-Cooked Bacon and, of course, delicious cold beer — the heat didn't last too long.

But the very best part of our meal? As we enjoyed delicious food and excellent company we knew that, simply by dining at Mission Chinese Food, we were helping provide nutritious meals to New Yorkers in need. Why? Because for every tasty entrée purchased at Mission Chinese Food's NYC location, the restaurant donates $0.75 to the Food Bank For New York City. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the restaurant leadership, including rising star Chef Danny Bowien, and to the efficient work of the Food Bank, where $1 donated helps provide 5 meals for New Yorkers in need, our meal helped provide over 22 meals for our struggling neighbors. It took the guilt right out of ordering a second helping of Thrice-Cooked Bacon, to take home

Chongqing Chicken Wings
Stir Fried Sweet Peas
The Thrice-Cooked Bacon - after we demolished it.
The Thrice-Cooked Bacon - after we demolished it.

Choosing to Tackle a Very REAL ISSUE

My name is Marcellus Wiley. In a single lifetime I've answered to ivy league graduate, professional athlete, sports commentator, friend and father. When you're in the public eye there's an assumption that the real you is known by all based on various television and radio interviews. When I saw Mario Batali in the news recently, it brought me back to the first title I ever had and that is "SON."

As a teenager I was often sent to the store by my mom to shop for the family. Whether it was for an extra ingredient needed for a certain dish, a gallon of milk...you name it and I was probably the one sent to get it. The journey I took to the store was not unlike that of countless kids all over the country. My team jersey was the same as most. My Chuck Taylors weren't too different from anyone else's and I gave the same "pound" to friends I saw along the way. The only thing that I was pretty certain set me apart from others was the currency burning a hole in my pocket. I knew that at the end of my shopping trip I would be paying the cashier with what I called "funny money", properly known as food stamps.

As a kid, I hated it. It's not like I was walking around like I thought I was better than others or some kind of Richie Rich but that didn't mean I wanted everybody to know THAT MUCH of our situation. In fact, sometimes I was so embarrassed that I would walk around the store in circles, up to 45 minutes in hopes to significantly delay the checkout process just so NO ONE would see me paying with those food stamps. 

When I heard that the Food Bank For New York City was doing a Food Stamp Challenge where people were actually CHOOSING to live on $31 for the week, I was intrigued. In all of the rhetoric today it's great to see people walking a mile in another's shoes in order to better understand their situation. When you're on any form of public assistance like food stamps, you're never thinking about the fact that you are one of almost 50 million Americans who are ALSO requiring assistance.

In my conversations with the Food Bank's president I learned that almost 80 percent of people on food stamps are mothers and their children. That's not different from my story. I also learned that many times teens would rather avoid using programs like free and reduced lunch assistance to keep from being embarrassed in front of their peers. That too is not different from my story. What's different for me now is that as an adult I better understand the necessity of a safety net for any family in need. Being needy doesn't mean anything about your character and certainly it doesn't say anything about your potential.

My mother firmly placed me on a path of success. The fact that part of that journey included walks to the store carrying food stamps makes me admire her even more. My sincere hope is that each person who has taken the Food Stamp Challenge will walk away understanding that what was an experiment for them is just called life for so many others. We live in a world where it's better to be called anything but poor. The Food Stamp Challenge reminds us that it's important that we use our voice and circle of influence on behalf of those who could truly use it. Food Bank For New York City is using this challenge to increase awareness and encourage all of us to act by letting our elected officials know that we care about those in need and expect them to do the same. If you'd like to join us in this effort just click here and let your voice be heard too.

Living on a Food Stamp budget with the added challenge of diabetes

By Chef Karl Wilder,

What began for me as a month long project to live as a diabetic in support of the Harlem Hospital's Stirring the Pot diabetes program also became a commitment to the Food Bank For New York City when I realized just how common diabetes and other diet-related diabetes are in low-income communities – communities that also rely heavily on food stamps to get by.

To truly understand what low-income diabetics go through, I joined the Food Bank's Food Stamp Challenge last week – an experience that for me will culminate in a twelve-hour Chef Challenge Marathon on May 19 in support of Stirring the Pot and the Food Bank.

Last summer I lived on a food stamp budget for two months in preparation for a benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank. I did okay then because I relied on high calorie foods that are filling and provide sustenance. But with the added challenge of a diet restricted by a very serious health condition, this time I sought to create an eating plan that had about 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal and never exceed $4.44 per day.

My morning cup of coffee with a splash of milk cost me forty-three cents, just 6 strawberries sixty cents, two slices of bacon forty two cents. In no time my budget has been consumed.

Now I am just hungry. Every day I am hungry. Thus far I have not been able to get my calories above 1,500 a day, though my goal is 2,200. I just can't afford that many calories while eating the "right" foods. I have managed to stay within budget but I feel weak and have less energy. My sleep patterns have been interrupted because I wake up feeling hunger.

When we think about people on food assistance we don't often realize that many also have serious health issues like diabetes, celiac, heart disease.

We are not powerless. The Food Bank's Food Stamp Challenge doesn't just ask you to try experiencing life as a food stamp recipient for one week – it also asks you to take action by telling Congress to protect this essential program.

You can also host a Virtual Food Drive, where you can shop from aisles of healthy food options to support the Food Bank. Or, you can donate food to your local food assistance program – the Food Bank serves close to 1,000 of them throughout the five boroughs. But instead of pulling that extra pound of pasta or that can of beans from your pantry, head to the store. Pick up some high quality protein; sardines, anchovies, tuna, canned salmon, foods with omega 3 that are appropriate for those with health problems...and while you are at it...get some peanut butter for the kids.

Food Review: Num Pang’s Batali Pang

By Mandy Kessler

Last week, a group of Food Bank staff gathered for a big group lunch to test out a delicious new partnership between longtime Food Bank supporter Mario Batali and the taste-masters behind Cambodian sandwich shop Num Pang. Aptly named the Batali Pang, this unique new sandwich benefits the Food Bank, so we may be a little biased. But if you question the objectivity of the following review, we have a solution for you – try the sandwich out for yourself and let us know what you think! You know you want to anyway.

The Batali Pang consists of authentic Italian cotechino sausage from Brooklyn Bangers with balsamic pickled onions and Cacio de Roma cheese, folded into the traditional Num Pang ingredients – homemade chili mayo, pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro.

As a bahn mi-lover, this sandwich offered just what I hoped for, traditional Asian flavors with a unique and pleasing Italian twist. The sausage had just the right amount of spice and fat to pair with chili mayo, and the pickled onions and Cacio de Roma cheese added a delicious bite. And after enjoying it all between the chewy-on-the-outside, soft-inside semolina flour baguette, I now know why the shop is named "Num Pang" a Cambodian term for "bread." With ingredients originating from countries not usually found in the same sentence, let alone sandwich, the different flavors came together seamlessly. I can safely say that all of my coworkers who joined me in testing out this unique partnership agreed – the Batali Pang is not to be missed.

I also have to add that, when you order the Batali Pang, check out Num Pang’s grilled corn on the cob. Our Fundraising Operations Coordinator summed up how we all felt about this addition to our meal: “I'm in a roast corn and meatball coma at the moment. Just the right balance of flavors, not too much of anything. Incredibly indulgent and delicious.”

But don’t take our word for it – check it out and let us know what you think. And remember, for every Batali Pang you order through March 15, a three dollar donation will be made to the Food Bank – helping to provide 15 free meals for New Yorkers in need.

How Media Saved the Bronx

By Ashley Goforth

The Bronx is home to many great things – a world class botanical garden and zoo, Arthur Avenue and the New York Yankees. But the Bronx is also home to some of the country's deepest poverty – according to Food Bank research, 50 percent of Bronx residents struggle to afford food.

So when the Muslim Women's Institute for Research and Development (MWIRD), a flagship member of our Bronx network, found itself facing a loss of nearly 70 percent of their funding, the Food Bank knew something had to be done.

With their Benedict Avenue and Highbridge food pantries in the South Bronx, the Institute is a beacon of hope within the country's poorest Congressional district. Run by Executive Director Nurah Amat'ullah and four additional paid staff – MWIRD relies heavily on the support of volunteers and donors to keep their doors open and services running smooth. The organization was originally established 14 years ago to serve the Muslim population, but has since grown to serve a diverse population that was in great need of support.

In December, after voluntarily giving up their salaries for the previous six months, the Institute's staff found themselves facing more than $48,000 in debt. With few options left, they reached out to the Food Bank for help. Hoping to stop the closure of a central Bronx organization, the Food Bank helped MWIRD bring their appeal to our network of media contacts, generating stories the Daily News and other major outlets.

The results went beyond our wildest expectations when the Collegiate Church Corporation, inspired by the media stories, gave MWIRD a grant large enough to cover their debt, pay their staff and save for the future.

The Food Bank is heartened by many parts of this story – the power of media to inspire, the dedication of our network members, that MWIRD is safe and continues to serve the South Bronx. And there is one more part that I am personally heartened by: in addition to its great teams, attractions and food, more people now know about the great people who sacrifice in order to help the Bronx.

Thanksgiving Day: Through the Eyes of Food Program Manager

Just before Thanksgiving, you heard from Cassandra Agredo, Director of Food Bank network member Xavier Mission, on Bank on It about the whirlwind of activity leading up to Thanksgiving day, when approximately New Yorkers would enjoy a Thanksgiving meal thanks to their efforts

Thanksgiving at Xavier Mission is my favorite time of the year. It’s when the best of humanity is revealed, when the boundaries that divide us seem to disappear for awhile.

What humbles me the most about the holiday is the gratitude I experience from so many people. It begins when our food pantry guests arrive to pick up their Thanksgiving food baskets. Many of them hug me, clasp my hands, and bless me and my family. Some are so overwhelmed by the food they are receiving and the ability to provide their families with a home-cooked holiday meal that they become tearful in their thanks.

One amazing moment happened when an elderly guest greeted one of my volunteers with effusions of gratitude and kept telling the volunteer how much she wished she could do something for him. All she had with her was a piece of gum and she pressed it into his hand, eager to show her thanks and return the kindness.

The gratitude continued to flow on Thanksgiving Day, when a gentleman joining us for Thanksgiving dinner at our community meal program slipped a napkin in my pocket. “Oh this rainbow coalition would fit into any exhibit of New York!” the napkin exclaimed. “Thanksgiving [at Xavier] was truly lovely and the greatest of performances!”

Gratitude emanated from our volunteers as well. One 78-year old woman had been signed up to receive a homebound meal. She called several days before the holiday to decline the delivery and requested instead that she be allowed to volunteer. She sat at the door and welcomed each guest into the hall with a smile, then thanked me over and over at the end of the day for allowing her to be a part of the festivities.

After being awash in the thanks and gratitude of so many this Thanksgiving, I find myself to be the most grateful of all. I’m grateful for the many blessings in my life, for the opportunity to work in a fulfilling job, and for the amazing people I meet every day—guests, volunteers, colleagues, advocates—who teach me so much about life, about justice and about love.

No More Breakfast – The Real Life Face of Budget Cuts

By Daryl Foriest

Back in June, the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry lost close to 50 percent of our annual budget after reallocations of state funding. As the Director of Meal Services at the Community Kitchen, I have been struggling with this loss of funding every single day since that time.

As painful as it is for me to face the affects of budget cuts, I just can’t compare my pain to what the New Yorkers we serve are going through – especially now.

Just about one month ago today, the Community Kitchen was forced to suspend our breakfast service – which served hot meals to 150 people every Tuesday and Thursday.

Though cutting two meal services may seem like a small sacrifice to some people, what most people don’t understand is that the New Yorkers who come to the Community Kitchen are people who have already factored in every hot meal they get here into their monthly budget. They are so careful to make sure they can pay rent and pay their bills that any single meal lost is a big deal. The meals we provide are a major part of their lives.

What feels the worst to me is thinking about the parents. The kids who come here don’t know they have it so bad. To them, this is just how they eat. For most of the parents, they don’t just have to deal with the loss of meals. They have to think and find a way to replace those meals so that the loss doesn’t hit their kids. But sometimes it’s impossible to protect the kids.

At our last breakfast, an eight-year-old girl named Sabrina came with her mom. They are regulars, so I knew to take them aside. Sabrina’s mom doesn’t speak English, so I had to tell her that she couldn’t come here for breakfast anymore. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I tried, but I just couldn’t stay to see the mom’s reaction. I already saw what it meant to Sabrina, and I couldn’t watch her figure out how to tell her mom.

The Food Bank is committed to continuing to provide soup kitchen meals and food pantry pickups at the Community Kitchen five days a week – and we hope to bring breakfast back as soon as we can. Please consider making a donation to support the Community Kitchen today. Thank you!

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