STORM WORSENED QNS.’ HUNGER CRISIS
One In Eight Families Lack Proper Food
Even before Hurricane Sandy struck last month, hunger and food insecurity soared citywide and in Queens and have likely surged since te storm, according to a new report released last Wednesday, Nov. 21, by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger at a press conference in Sunnyside.
Before the storm, 321,655 Queens residents—one in eight—lived in households without enough food, a new record high, according to the coalition. The group’s first-ever analysis of federal senior data also found that one in 12 Queens residents over the age of 60 struggled against hunger. One in six of the children in Queens—more than 93,000—lived in households that lacked sufficient food.
In 2012, before Sandy hit the New York City area, just over 80 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens in Queens reported an increase in need compared to last year. At least 75 percent saw an increase in senior citizens.
Since Hurricane Sandy, the coalition stated, nearly half of the Queens food providers reported being impacted in some way either directly or indirectly. More than 50 percent had to close or temporarily suspend food distribution services as a result of the storm.
The coalition’s analysis, “The Perpetual Storm: NYC Food Insecurity Before—and After—Hurricane Sandy,” was released by the Coalition and leading New Yorkers at the press conference at the Sunnyside Community Services. The full report is available online at www.nyccah.org /2012annualhungersurvey.
“Low-income New Yorkers faced a perpetual storm of hunger long before Hurricane Sandy, and will continue to suffer long after the immediate storm clean-up,” said Joel Berg, the executive director of the coalition. “It should be considered a national scandal that, before the storm, one in four of our children and one in ten of our seniors struggled against hunger. If we can agree that no American should go hungry due to a natural disaster, surely we should agree that no American should go hungry due to human-made disasters such as recessions and program cutbacks. Our greatest fear is that, as was the case in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, the most vulnerable residents will be forgotten after the cameras move on to the next disaster. Our plea today is for our leaders to understand that this is a long-term problem that requires a long-term response.”
The coalition’s report includes three sets of data: an analysis of recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food security data from 2011 (using a methodology that the federal government started using in 1997); the results of a pre-storm survey of food pantries and soup kitchens about their year-long trends; and the results of a brief questionnaire of food pantries and soup kitchens following Sandy.
Pantries and kitchens responding to the coalition’s survey about 2012 trends reported that they most need skilled volunteers to help with such tasks as website design, grant writing, policy advocacy support, and computer assistance throughout the year. A mere 10.3 percent of responding programs citywide need only unskilled volunteers to do things such as serve soup, pack cans, or work in the pantry at some time during the year.
On the other hand, 42.7 percent of responding agencies reported needing long-term skilled volunteers. Only 47 percent of the agencies said they did not need any more volunteers at all.
“Thousands of older adults in Western Queens face the challenge of being able to afford sufficient and nutritious food,” said Judith Zangwill, the executive director at Sunnyside Community Services. “Sunnyside Community Services meets this urgent need by providing congregate meals at its senior center and adult day services program and meals-onwheels to homebound elderly. We also assist seniors in enrolling in food stamps. Raising awareness about hunger among the elderly is a responsibility we all have.”
“I appreciate the work New York City Coalition Against Hunger has done and this report that documents how much more we need to do to make sure families have healthy nutritious food,” added Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.
“Council of Senior Centers and Services is pleased to join the NYC Coalition Against Hunger to raise awareness and address issues of hunger and poverty among older New Yorkers, said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at the Council of Senior Centers and Services (CSCS). “Senior centers, meals-onwheels and ensuring those eligible for food stamps receive them are key programs to assist older adults to have access to adequate and nutritious food. With one out of three older New Yorkers living in poverty and thousands more just barely getting by, CSCS is committed to working in collaboration with anti-hunger advocates to eradicate hunger among NYC's elderly.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio remarked, “The coalition's report underscores the severity of the hunger crisis New York faces—a crisis only exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy. As our city continues to rebuild and prepares for the holidays, those of us fortunate enough to have food on our tables should remember how pervasive this issue remains for so many of our neighbors. Our pantries and soup kitchens are doing incredible work— but they should be a complement— not a substitute—for a coordinated City response. We need to become a city that commits itself fully to ending hunger and food insecurity as a matter of public policy."
“Hurricane Sandy has stretched many of our feeding programs to their limits, and while the city and emergency food providers are doing their best to feed hungry New Yorkers, we need to do more on a federal level to ensure that these programs have the required resources to meet the growing need,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.
The coalition, in partnership with ConAgra Foods, recently launched a nationwide Ending Hunger Through Citizen Service Initiative to give volunteers better tools to fight the problem year-round. The public can access these tools at www.hungervolunteer.org.
Other key citywide findings from the report include:
• Almost 11 percent of the responding agencies said they knew of a food pantry, soup kitchen, or brown bag program that shut down or closed for business in the past year, before Sandy.
• Thirty-four percent of EFPs reported their staff, or volunteers, sometimes uses their personal money to fund their feeding program.
• Fifty-six percent of pantries and kitchens reported having to turn away clients, reduce their portion sizes, or limit their hours of operation in 2012, compared to 58 percent in 2011, 51 percent in 2010, and 55 percent in 2009. However, the rate is still lower than the coalition found in 2008 (69 percent), before a large increase in food stamps/SNAP offset the city’s increasing hunger.
In addition, the coalition has launched a nationwide campaign to ask President Barack Obama to recommit to his pledge to end U.S. child hunger by 2015. The Coalition’s campaign urges the President to pursue some of the following steps:
• support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to increase the purchasing power of SNAP recipients to enable them to be better able to afford healthier food;
• vow to veto any Farm Bill or other legislative measure which further cuts SNAP benefits, half of which go to children;
• expand funding—or, at least, prevent further cuts— in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program; and
• include in all economic policies an intense focus on creating living wage jobs for all low-income families.