NEW YORK—As Public Advocate Bill de Blasio served more than a thousand hungry men and women at Holy Apostles soup kitchen on Tuesday, a lull in service did not signal an end to the need. The seats were full, and the line up spread out the door and down the street as many more awaited much-needed sustenance.
One of the largest soup kitchens in the nation—the best stocked and best funded, according to Joel Berg of New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH)—even Holy Apostles has had trouble meeting the need this year. Berg met with politicians in front of a crowded dining hall in the Chelsea church on Ninth Avenue to release NYCCAH’s annual hunger survey report.
Need is on the rise—but so is federal funding.
Of the 200 soup kitchens and pantries surveyed, 85.4 percent reported an increased demand on their limited supplies. This year, 51.4 percent did not have enough resources to meet demand. While this figure is an improvement over 55.3 percent in 2009 and 68.6 percent in 2008, Berg declared:
“No one is celebrating that in the richest city in the history of the world, with 58 billionaires, half of the charitable organizations have to turn people away.”
“While there is increasing hunger in New York City, the only reason we’re not experiencing a full-blown catastrophe is [that] federal programs, as implemented by the state, are working as designed,” he added.
Berg had to repeat that last part, “that’s right—you don’t get to say it very often—government programs are working as designed.”
More food stamps got to eligible New Yorkers this year. The number of New Yorkers taking advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) rose from 200,000 in June 2009 to 1.7 million in September 2010. That translates to $458 million more in food costs covered by the federal government.
This dramatic increase in participation signals both rising need and better accessibility to SNAP, says Berg. While SNAP has improved, it has a long way to go say advocates. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called for an end to fingerprinting applicants in a speech delivered at the Food and Finance High School in Clinton on Monday.
“Research indicates that fingerprinting deters nearly 30,000 eligible New Yorkers from signing up [to SNAP],” said Quinn. “Now is the time for us to decriminalize hunger!” she declared.
Congressman Anthony Wiener says SNAP tables should be set up at soup kitchens to make food stamps readily available to those in need. He calls for grants to increase SNAP participation in cities where the participation rate is 85 percent or lower among eligible citizens.