Built to Serve: NYC’s Conference on Hunger and Poverty 2018

(L to R: Danette Rivera of Jesus is the Answer; Margarette Purvis, Food Bank President & CEO; David G. Greenfield, CEO of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty; Major Sharon Sweeting-Lindsey of VETS, Inc.; and Triada Stampas, Food Bank Vice President for Research & Public Affairs, during the press conference at NYC’s Conference on Hunger & Poverty)

Food Bank For New York City presented NYC’s Conference on Hunger and Poverty, bringing together leaders from the anti-hunger community, supporters, and funders to reflect on the progress of 35 years of service to our city and how to move forward to address the challenges ahead. Over 500 attendees representing our network of member organizations packed workshops informing and inspiring them to offer new services, respond during crisis, improve efficiency, and get their messages out.

They keynote speaker was Kevin Powell, a writer, public speaker, and activist who had first-hand experience with poverty. Having been a teenager at the time of Food Bank’s founding, he spoke of poverty as violence inflicted upon communities, and thanked Food Bank members for their work to touch lives and sustain families like his. Kevin is a cofounder of BK Nation, a new American organization focused on equal opportunities and civil and human rights for all Americans.

Newly elected New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined the conference as a special guest, and announced a major goal of his Speakership: to end poverty in New York City. Speaker Johnson spoke about his own background growing up in public housing and shared his experiences relying on free school lunches, and his family needing to run a tab at the local grocery store because they couldn’t otherwise afford the food they needed.

Food Bank released new research showing that nearly half of New York City’s food pantries and soup kitchens operate on annual budgets of less than $25,000. Asked about threats to their ability to serve their communities, Food Bank’s members indicated they see policy changes by federal, state and local government as major concerns. The issue most widely held to be a threat to food pantries’ and soup kitchens’ operations was federal policy changes in particular, with 80% of emergency food providers indicating it is a “major” or “moderate” threat – more than funding, staff or other operational concerns.

These concerns would seem to be well founded. Food Bank reported on challenges for 2018, including the Mayor’s new budget proposal, which would cut EFAP food purchases by 45%, equaling a loss of 6.8 million meals. Food Bank also reported on the new White House budget that reduces SNAP benefits by 30% and replaces them with food boxes, eliminates the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and eradicates SNAP nutrition education funding. Both proposals would make it harder for the emergency food network to serve New Yorkers in need.

Several wins were also announced: New York City’s implementation of Universal Free School Meals and increases in Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) funding three years in a row were achieved through advocacy efforts that many Food Bank members joined.

Food Bank also announced that it was strengthening its nutrition policy. The long-standing policy has been that we do not purchase or seek out donations of sugar-sweetened beverages or snacks. We are now extending this policy to reject unsolicited offers of these products, starting immediately with sugar-sweetened beverages and candy (guidelines for healthy snack food donations will be the next phase).

In recognizing the work of its members, Food Bank presented its Founding Member Award to New York Common Pantry, Project Hospitality, Neighbors Together, Little Sisters of the Assumption and Community Food Resource Center Community Kitchen. Food Bank also used the conference to recognize the dedication of partner for over two decades, JP Morgan Chase, by presenting them with the Cadwalader Award for Corporate Service.

The NYC Conference on Hunger and Poverty is received well by members:
Otto Starzmann, Ph. D., Chief Program Officer, River Fund
“All of the elements of the conference were valuable. I thought the “Passport” and the peer networking at the end—which were both new features—made practical sense.”
Lillian Hopkins, Executive Director from Crossover Baptist Church
“The conference in a whole was very enjoyable. I loved the full day of information.”