NEW YORK—More than one in four New Yorkers (2.6 million) go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food, according to the nonprofit Food Bank For New York City, and food pantries and soup kitchens are the last line of defense.
But with the increased use, local food banks used by 1.4 million city residents are running low on supplies. In 2013, half of the city’s hunger relief programs report having to turn people away due to a lack of food.
New York City Council members said the lack of food has reached crisis proportions, and 33 of them will rally residents in their districts this week to donate to food drives.
It is a first council-wide effort to fill up the city’s food banks.
“An alarmingly high number of families are in the unfortunate position of struggling to put food on the table each day,” said Council member Mark Levine. He, along with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council member James Vacca announced the initiative Tuesday.
In this file photo, People eat dinner at a soup kitchen run by the Food Bank For New York on Dec. 11, 2013. (John Moore/Getty Images)
The federal government cut funding for its food stamps program, known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), in November of last year, reducing benefits to an average of less than $1.40 per person, per meal.
Lisa Sposato, associate director of food sourcing at City Harvest said the impact is being felt at New York City food pantries and soup kitchens, which have seen an increase in visitors. City Harvest rescues food others don’t want and delivers it to local food pantries.
Although food pantries consistently face greater demand for food than what is available, Sposato said, the funding cut exacerbated the shortage. New York State alone lost $332 million in SNAP benefits this fiscal year, according to the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Council Member I. Daneek Miller said, “Traveling through Queens and, in fact, the entire City of New York, one can be overwhelmed by the amount of people served by our food pantries.”
The city’s hunger problem was exacerbated by the recession and slow jobs recovery.
Since the recession, New York City saw a 62 percent increase in people enrolling for SNAP benefits, to a total of over 1.8 million people. But for most of its recipients, the benefits only last about three weeks into the month, according to a 2013 study by The Food Bank.
“It’s underemployment. It’s getting harder for people to make ends meet, despite having a job,” said Sposato.
In addition to the food drives, City Council is giving $1.32 million to soup kitchens, food banks, and food pantries to replenish food supplies, it announced on Tuesday. The money will come from the council’s 2015 fiscal year budget.
“Food security is a basic human right, yet every night far too many New Yorkers go to bed hungry,” said Mark-Viverito in a press statement. “Food pantries are a vital resource in the fight against hunger, but citywide supply shortages and rising food costs have severely depleted their ability to serve New Yorkers in need of assistance.”
Sposato said she has seen a greater public awareness for food poverty. Recently, companies that hold food events have been calling up City Harvest to rescue the food they weren’t able to sell.
To keep up with the demand, City Harvest is also increasing its food rescue goal from 46 million pounds last year, to 50 million pounds this year. Sposato said they are on track to meeting the goal.