Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend an open house for the Food Bank for NYC. This organization has always been something close to my heart as I have spent many hours volunteering there. Last nights discussion was on the focus on childhood hunger, especially during the summer. A grandmother who supports her 4 grandchildren by herself spoke to the group about her struggles and what her daily life is like. It was heartbreaking to hear and by the time she finished the entire room was in tears. The constant concerns and stresses she faces on a daily basis are things that most of us take for granted.
In New York City, 1 in 5 people rely on the Food Bank For New York City’s programs and services for meals. Among the 1.4 million New Yorkers who rely on soup kitchens and food pantries, women, children, seniors, the working poor and people with disabilities make up the largest groups. Facing challenges such as low wages, unemployment and healthcare costs, these groups are particularly vulnerable to food poverty.
The open house was held at the Central Harlem location on 116th Street since that neighborhood has one of the largest numbers of children utilizing their services. Over 75% of the families in their neighborhood are below poverty level, which equates to about 3 out of 4 children being in poverty.
While many of these children are eligible for the national free and reduced lunch program, the application process and the stigma associated with being identified as poor act as barriers to participation. Meanwhile, only about 1/5 of eligible students participate in school breakfast, which is free for all public school students in New York City. The food bank is actively working the communities to help schools increase awareness as well as encouraging the community to apply.
Those children who take advantage of these programs, have been left in the dark during the summer up until now. What most of us do not realize is that families rely on those 2 meals during the day for their children because their budgets simply do not allow for parents to purchase food for the additional meals. When summer comes along, the parents are not getting a raise simply because it’s summer, so the question not only becomes “what is my child going to eat?” but “how am I going to supply it?.” The food bank will serve all children who enroll free breakfast and lunch during the summer. The meals will be served at local schools, community centers, or at the Food Bank itself.
The Food Bank is proud to announce that they have 14 operation sites, this number is up from 8 the previous year. They are able to serve 36,000 meals and hope to continue to increase the number of children they can serve. Since the Food Bank relies heavily on donations and volunteers, those are two of the best ways to help with the cause. There are currently 900 sites throughout all 5 boroughs so it is easy to find one in your neighborhood. You can visit the Food Bank For NYC site for ways to help and donate.
If you live outside of the city, check with your local food bank and schools to find out if they are participating in the No Child Hungry By 2015 Campaign so that you can help in your local community as well!