Emergency meals supply stays a problem throughout Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets Food Pantry at PS / IS 308 on January 15, 2021 in Brooklyn, New York (Image: Michelle Farsi)

Even as service providers and pantries across the city have been stepped up to meet the surge in free food demand caused by the pandemic, several parts of Brooklyn remain underserved.

City Harvest estimates that visits to the city’s pantries and soup kitchens have increased 33% since before the pandemic. Data from Feeding America Action shows that the projected overall food insecurity rate in Brooklyn reached 20% last year, up from 14.3% just two years earlier. Nonprofit No Kid Hungry said at a recent city council hearing that 1 in 3 children in New York City may have experienced food insecurity in the last year, up from 1 in 5 before the pandemic.

Much of the need, say experts and elected officials, comes from undocumented New Yorkers who do not have access to government benefits, seniors living on steady incomes, and gig workers struggling to access unemployment benefits . The gaps between black and Latin American New Yorkers and their white counterparts have also been carried over from before the pandemic.

The need also comes from families and medium-sized skilled workers who have lost their jobs. And it’s popped up all over the district, even in places that might not be immediately obvious.

Recalling recent data from the city’s Office of Food Policy, which found the gap between the demand for and the supply of emergency food available in parts of his district was particularly wide, South Brooklyn Senator Andrew Gounardes said Parts of Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Dyker. represents Heights, said: “There’s a deeper story here about people who can’t put food on their own table on a regular basis.”

Dr. Melony Samuels, executive director of the Brooklyn-based Campaign against Hunger, supported this view.

“The need is widespread in Brooklyn and the rest of the world,” said Samuels. “Including areas where we wouldn’t even have looked in that direction.”

Fulfilling this need took a Herculean effort. The Hunger Campaign moved to a temporary 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Canarsie to create a food center with social distancing space and forged hundreds of partnerships with community-based organizations that distribute food in the neighborhoods they best know.

“We go to areas of high demand and we go into detail,” said Samuels.

How can city and country better support this work?

Gounardes, who recently organized a roundtable with food vendors to better understand their needs, says the government could in the short term help build networks of vendors so they can better share resources and undistributed food. More shared cold rooms for storing perishable food would also help.

But the “biggest and most immediate role” government can play is to adequately fund grocery delivery services, citing the Nourish New York program, a $ 35 million COVID-era initiative, farms upstate connects with food banks.

The Senate recently passed bill to make the program permanent, and Gounardes said he would “increase funding for it significantly, to at least $ 50 million in budget this year, to really make sure we get that pipeline through.” and keep pumping the food “. . “

Samuels also stressed the importance of additional emergency funding for food suppliers, saying that her organization relies heavily on private donations as it expands.

In the longer term, many believe that the city’s food system will have to change fundamentally. Last month, the city unveiled its first 10-year food plan, a series of policy proposals aimed at “achieving a fairer, more sustainable and healthier food system by 2031”.

Proposals range from creating new spaces for urban farming and taking advantage of SNAP benefits online, to helping the development of neighborhood-based food centers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the food system. Several leading mayoral candidates have also spoken at length about their plans to tackle hunger, public nutrition, school meals, urban agriculture and more.

These proposals can take years to implement, and the need will inevitably persist even after the majority of urban residents have received a vaccine. But local organizations such as the campaign against hunger are already thinking ahead.

“We see this as an opportune time to build a better nutritional system,” said Samuels. “We’re not trying to be just a stopgap solution for COVID-19. We try to build a functioning system in our community. “

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