NEW YORK — Pablo and Melinda Ramirez often don't know where their next meal will come from. They regularly visit food pantries and distributions, like one on the Upper West Side.

“I tell you: hard times gets harder sometimes when you get to our age,” Melinda Ramirez said.

The couple, in their early 60s, has been married for two decades and has never been able to host a Thanksgiving dinner at their home. This year, they say, will be their first, and they will invite neighbors who are also struggling to put food on the table.

According to a new study by Hunger Free America, the reality for the Ramirez family is felt by 1 in 7 New Yorkers.

What You Need To Know

  • New study: 1 in 7 NYC residents is food insecure

  • Statewide, the number of residents who did not have enough to eat dropped by 56% thanks to the boost in federal aid to food assistance programs

  • 84% of local food pantries and soup kitchens reported they served more people in 2021 than 2020

“The problem is still here. There are still lines at soup kitchens and food pantries,” explained Joel Berg, the CEO of Hunger Free America, which works to end hunger through advocacy and direct services.

Berg says most of the increased pandemic funding for food assistance programs is coming to an end, and he's calling on the government to do more than just holiday giveaways. He wants the U.S. Senate to pass the Build Back Better bill, which would expand the safety net for struggling families.

"We hope people don't think their turkey giveaway are solving the problem," Berg said. "We need to understand that funding things like benefits access are going to make the biggest difference in the long run."

Without the extra funding, he said, organizations like Hunger Free America will have to cut their food distribution events and staff that helps families enroll in federal food programs.

That would be a big blow to the Ramirez family.

"Take care of the people. Take care of these people,” Pablo Ramirez said, "especially the seniors and people who are on disabilities, people who can't get help."

Pablo says he's a former Marine, now with a disability, and he and his wife are thankful they are able to host and help friends this year who are in a similar struggle.


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