During these difficult times, many people who never thought they would need help putting food on their table are turning to food pantries for help. Keeping up with that demand, however, is proving to be difficult for many emergency food providers citywide.
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“This is really the greatest crisis that we’ve seen in the emergency food world in our lifetime," said David Greenfield, CEO & executive director of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty. "Thirty-two percent of food pantries are already closed in NYC!”
Met Council supplies free kosher food to pantries. Greenfield says his group and City Harvest asked the city and state to each provide $25 million in emergency aid to help food bank. The charities fear their efforts won’t be sustainable without the assistance.
“One program, on a typical weekday would serve about 200 people and they served about 1,000 people one day, so the need is there and the network is working really hard to respond under some really difficult and unprecedented circumstances,” explained Jenique Jones, senior director of Programs Operations and Policy for City Harvest.
Some food banks tell NY1 that, with the wholesale cost of eggs, chicken, and produce skyrocketing by 180 percent or more, it’s a huge challenge to compete for supplies against Whole Foods, Amazon, and other organizations with deep pockets.
Greenfield says, when it comes to Met Council, “We have very strapped budgets and we’re trying to provide food to the neediest New Yorkers and we just can’t compete with the multi-billion dollar corporations.”
Prior to the pandemic, Kasuneike Burnett of Far Rockaway worked about 45 hours a week placing CitiBikes back in their racks, and she says she did not any help putting food on the table for her or her daughter. But with her hours slashed, she’s been coming to St. John’s Bread and Life food pantry in Bedford-Stuyvesant for help with food.
“Being that it’s quarantine, it’s hard to make ends meet, so I come to pantries like this, and I’m grateful they are here for us," she told NY1.
Burnett is among the surging number of New Yorkers relying on the generosity of food pantries to help feed themselves and their families.
Laneikwa Ford of Bedford-Stuyvesant tells NY1, “I’m a substitute teacher at PS 81, and it’s just sad. I just thank god for people like this, Bread and Life, where people can come get some food. Not a whole lot but it’s not going to leave you dry. It’s a blessing.”
Even in good times, hunger is a problem. Last year, one million city residents were considered food insecure, or unable to afford an adequate amount of food.
Advocates say those numbers have grown as businesses shut down because of the coronavirus. The State Labor Department says it has received more than 2.2 million web hits inquiring about unemployment.
In the meantime, bank operators admit it’s also challenging to keep food pantries staffed, since many volunteers are older, and they are following recommended guidelines to stay home.