Tag Archive | "hunger"

Highbridge food pantry could close

Highbridge food pantry could close

By Manuel Rueda Wearing thick cotton gloves and a leopard print hat, Myriam Aquino hands out a one-pound bag of rice.  Her client pushes his small shopping cart forward and both arrive at the next shelf.  “You can pick one of these or one of those” she says in Spanish pointing to a bag of raisins and picking up a pack of figs. The Community Food Pantry at Highbridge on Ogden Avenue, currently has no heating and the selection of brands is limited.  But food is free here, and for thousands of Bronx residents with low incomes or no jobs, the groceries on offer enable them to save $20 or $30 that can be spent on rising rents, transportation hikes or other non-negotiable expenditures. Aquino volunteers regularly at the pantry and is currently unemployed.  She also takes some groceries home after everyone has been served. But she is also worried about the future of the pantry. Staff member salaries were suspended last week because the agency that runs the pantry is short of funds.  And the variety of food Aquino says “is never like it was before.” Like hundreds of food pantries across New York, Highbridge is facing difficult times.  The 2008 recession, and the ensuing period of jobless economic growth has increased the number of people demanding the food pantry’s services. In 2007, Highbridge used to get 800 unique visits per month says director Nurah Amatullah.  Now it averages about 1,200 a month. But funds for running the pantry are becoming scarce and its director says she may have to shut the place down in March because there is little money to pay for staff or operational costs.

Myriam Aquino is not only a regular volunteer at the Highbridge food pantry. She is also a client.

“There are things in food poverty work that requires paid staff to do it.” Amatullah says in a subtle Trinidadian accent. Hunger levels across the city are alarming according to the Food Bank for New York.  The nonprofit estimates that 37 percent of New Yorkers resorted to emergency food aid at some point in 2010. That number is slightly below the 40 percent figure registered in 2009.  But Carlos Rodriguez, the Food Bank’s vice president for benefit access, points out that many New Yorkers are now limiting the amount of food they buy and its quality. His organization estimates that thirty percent of New Yorkers reduced their food intake last year. Meanwhile, soup kitchens and food pantries across the city say greater numbers of people are showing up at their doors. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an umbrella organization for emergency food providers, sent out a questionnaire last year to some 1,100 local soup kitchens and food pantries.  More than 200 returned the questionnaire with 85 percent reporting they had fed more people in 2010 than in 2009. The coalition does not keep statistics on exactly how many people were fed.  But in its survey, 53 percent of respondents said the number of people they feed has increased “greatly.” Executive Director Joel Berg says New York food pantries and soup kitchens improved their response to increased demand in 2010, thanks to greater investments by the federal government in food stamps. In New York City last year, the federal government spent more than $3.2billion in food stamps through its Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program he says, taking pressure off local food pantries and soup kitchens. Seven out of ten agencies reporting to the Coalition Against Hunger last year, also said that they received additional funding from the federal government through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. But anti-hunger advocates say most of the money goes towards food and little is left for operational costs and staff. On Webster Avenue, near the Botanical Garden, the nonprofit agency POTS, -Part of the Solution- runs a soup kitchen that serves 350 hot meals a day and a food pantry that gets approximately 40 daily visits. The number of people attending the pantry has increased by 20 percent over the past 12 months says emergency food services director, Sister Mary Alice Annan, while at the soup kitchen Annan reckons attendance has increased by 50 percent. Staffing which consists of 15 employees has remained the same for years, with POTS relying on  a large number of volunteers to stock food and serve the clientele. “The need is getting so great and we don’t have enough money to pay for everything” says Sister Hannan. “So we would rather pay for food for the people than pay for staff.” Like most who work in this industry however, Hannan says there are jobs that are best left to paid staff, such as operating databases, cooking in the soup kitchen and writing grant proposals. “Volunteers don’t always show up, so we use them to supplement what we do” she says.

Nurah Amatullah directs the Highbridge food pantry. She is struggling to pay her staff

Nurah Amatullah, from the Community Food Pantry at Highbridge says that while volunteers are a crucial part of her operation, she cannot rely on them to regularly receive and organize food deliveries that arrive at 8:30 am. There is also a lack of people in the neighborhood trained to run databases that document how many attended the pantry, the number of people in their household and other data required by funders. So while she advocates for the professional staffing of food pantries, Amatullah has had to furlough her staff of three, paying them small amounts of money as people donate cash to the food pantry through a PayPal account she set up in support of the pantry. Amatullah’s organization -the Muslim Womens’ Institute for Research and Development- receives funds for operational costs from United Way and grants for staffing from Feeding America. Funding from these sources has shrunk and Amatullah has not found another donor to fund pantry operations.   It costs $2,500 a week to fund Highbridge and its sister pantry in Parkchester Amatullah says, with less than one third of this money going to staff. But the lack of funds is currently so severe that Amatullah does not know if they will make it through March. Staff are currently volunteering their time to do essential jobs like taking orders and keeping the client database at both pantries.  Amatullah claims this way of working is not sustainable. Her three staff members are the main breadwinners for their families and they are already looking out for other job opportunities.   “When they don’t get a check it is not just them” she says.  “It is a household tethering on collapse.”

Posted in The Bronx BeatComments (0)

Absence of Love for the hungry

Love Gospel Assembly days after the fire destroyed it. Photo by: Connie Preti

Love Gospel Assembly days after the fire destroyed it. Photo by: Connie Preti

When the Love Gospel Assembly was destroyed by a four-alarm fire over the summer, the Fordham neighborhood not only lost its Grand Concourse church, it lost one of its most important resources for the poor during one of the borough’s most economically strained periods yet. Love Gospel had served anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 meals a month. Its loss is still causing added stress to local food providers, particularly in the holiday season. “The fire was a debacle for us over the past three months,” said Maureen Sheehan, director of Part of the Solution food pantry and kitchen that operates a mile from where Love Gospel once stood.  Her kitchen staff found that traffic from August to October was up 30 percent this year compared to the same period last year. “It’s awful, because we’re such a tight space and we really can’t handle overcrowding," said Sheehan. "We were overcrowded to start with.” The July 25 fire came at a time when the need for food assistance was increasing in the Bronx. A January report by the Food Research and Action Center found the South Bronx is the neediest congressional district in the country in terms of food and poverty. Three-quarters of the food banks surveyed in the Bronx reported to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger that demand for food continued to climb in recent months. The POTS food pantry, which is separate from the kitchen, experienced a 36 percent increase from 2009 during the three-month stretch. In August through October last year, there were on average 650 families a month visiting the pantry. During the same time this year, there were 885 families per month. Sister Mary Alice Hannan, who has been the executive director of POTS since 1996, said they were prepared for the influx in August, a time when the Love Kitchen usually closed its doors, but were not for the months to follow. POTS expects its expanded $6.5 million facility will be ready in February. But until then, the organization needs "more funding for what we do,” Hannan said. Even on Nov. 29, long after most people had already received their Thanksgiving Day packages, there was a long line for the food pantry that spilled onto the street by 9 a.m. Five years ago, POTS provided 210,000 meals. In 2009 the number jumped to 330,000. This year, the pantry will provide over 380,000 meals, said Sheehan. In order to meet the upcoming holiday needs, POTS is asking food banks that served the Love Gospel Assembly to send any surplus food to its facility. Although Hannan said they have cooperated, POTS can always use more. The most recent statistics from the Department of Agriculture show that food insecurity in the country is at its highest since 1995. A 2008 report found that 14.6 percent of households did not have enough food for all family members at some time during the year. But the greatest need may be in the 16th Congressional District, which makes up part of the South Bronx. The food resource report, which used data from a Gallup poll that surveyed more than 530,000 people, stated that more than 36 percent of this congressional district reported there were times during the past year when they did not have enough money to buy the food they or their family needed – the highest percentage of any congressional district in the country. “The demand that we’re seeing from families has just been increasing so much,” said Khushbu Srivastava, the director of marketing and communications for the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, which is located on 168th Street in the Bronx. The housing and social services group partnered with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger to try and raise awareness about food insecurity in the borough. “I think that the biggest thing that we see is that more and more working families are needing support for food, and I think that’s been a really difficult thing.” The Coalition found that more than half of the city’s food pantries and kitchens said they could not meet the growing need. “In what is still the richest city in the history of the world, it is unacceptable that more than half of the city's food pantries and soup kitchens do not have enough food and money to meet the growing demand,” Joel Berg, executive director of the Coalition, said in a press release. “It is no wonder that one in eight state residents now face food hardship, with most barely hanging on. The only bit of good news is that the massive increase in federal nutrition assistance in New York prevented a full-blown hunger catastrophe.” According to the Coalition, in 2010 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Food Stamp Program will provide more than $3.2 billion of federal funding for food in New York City. The figure is $458 million higher than last year. The latest report from the Human Resources Administration said in 2009, 29 percent of the Bronx was using food stamps. “We really believe that the government needs to do more in terms of supporting emergency food services,” Srivastava said. “We’re giving out less food than we did last year. Last year at this time, we were giving out 150 bags per week. We’re only giving out 80 bags of food per week now, but the demand’s probably twice as high as the year before.”
POTS Mission Statement. Photo by: Connie Preti

POTS Mission Statement. Photo by: Connie Preti

POTS and WHEDco rely on government assistance, donations and the Food Bank. Srivastava said less has been available to take at the Food Bank, and what is available goes fast. It doesn’t look as if the Love Kitchen will come to the rescue anytime soon either. Jeffrey Williams, who is in charge of coordinating the soup kitchen and pantry service for Love Gospel Assembly, said there are no definite dates for its reopening. “We have to dig out and clean inside,” said Williams, who used to depend on meals at the Love Kitchen. His role is now to direct patrons to other local kitchens and pantries. “That’s what we are working on right now.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Food, Food and Beyond, Northwest Bronx, Southern Bronx, Special ReportsComments (0)

Like a Supermarket, but the Food Here Is Free

Video by Shreeya Sinha

The line outside the food pantry at Highbridge Community Church forms three times every week, even in the biting cold. The pantry, located at 1272 Ogden Ave., is open for just two hours a day, three times a week. Bundled in overcoats, most visitors take food home in shopping carts, though one woman on Wednesday loaded food into a rolling suitcase with a green and pink floral print. The line is a familiar scene for Denise Richards, an administrator at the food pantry, who said that the number of people visiting the food pantry doubled in the past six months. “I know a lot more people are unemployed; I’ve seen a lot more younger people coming in, people in their 20s, people my age, since a year ago until now,” said Richards, who is 26. The scene outside the Highbridge food pantry reflects a stark reality. In some Bronx neighborhoods, more than one-third of the people report having difficulty getting enough to eat. New data also ranks the Bronx as the unhealthiest county in the state. According to the results of a survey published last month by the Food Resource Action Center, 36.9 percent of respondents in Congressional District 16, which includes Morrisania, Highbridge and Mott Haven, reported difficulty in finding food over the past year. This translates to the nation’s highest hunger rate. “By definition, hunger is that feeling or uneasiness and questioning about where your next meal is going to come from,” said Kate MacKenzie, director of policy and government relations for City Harvest, an organization that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks. The second study published on Wednesday by the University of Wisconsin School of Public Health found that the borough was the least healthiest county in the state. The Bronx has the second-highest mortality rate and the least availability of clinical care. MacKenzie sees the two reports together painting a bleak picture for some Bronx residents. “Poverty, hunger and health are interrelated,” she said. City Harvest saw demand for emergency food increase by 17 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of 2009,  MacKenzie said. She also said that more than half of the affiliated food agencies in the Bronx have seen an increase in the number of visits by children over the same time period. The Food Resource Action Center study concluded that families with children were 1.6 times more likely to experience difficulty in finding food than those without children. On Friday, New York State Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. announced a $200,000 grant for the Davidson Community Center. The money will defray the costs of running social programs, including a food pantry. Other pantries, like the one in Highbridge, still struggle for money. Richards said that increased demand has stretched the food pantry’s resources to the point where it was forced to cut back hours and ration the amounts of food it distributed. “Recently, we’ve had to shut down. We’ve had to close certain days due to lack of food,” Richards said. “We’ve had to adjust the number of food items someone can get.” Bronx residents who face shortages at their primary food pantries can often make up the gap by moving around the area. “The food does run out sometimes,” said Kenia Abreu, who is 39 years old and lives on Ogden Avenue. “That’s when I get prepared and look at the calendar and see what I can get from other pantries, because this is not the only pantry I come to. I go to other areas, as well.” Abreu worked as a teacher’s aide until October 2009, when she was laid off. She relies on food pantries to help support her three children, aged 8, 6 and 4. “It’s important for me, not only because I’m going for the economic situation, but also because the things they give here is healthy,” Abreu said. “We have the bread, which is something that we need for the kids. We have the cereal, the juices, the milk.” William Clark, who lives on Summit Avenue, arrived at Highbridge Church at 3:50 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 minutes before the pantry opened. He was bundled in a blue coat, his hood pulled over his head and tightly around his face, to protect from a sharp wind. Clark lives with his son and daughter, and he was picking up enough food from the community center to last his family about one week. He didn’t make it inside until well after 5 p.m.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Southern BronxComments (3)

Center Receives $200,000 to Fight Obesity and Hunger

When she received the call yesterday afternoon, Aida Martinez couldn’t believe her own ears. State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. was calling the Davidson Community Center chairwoman in person, to announce that a $200,000 grant would be delivered this week to improve nutrition conditions in the Bronx. Excellent news for a borough that was recently ranked as the least healthy county in the state.

Espada speech

Senator Pedro Espada Jr., made a speech on the necessity to change nutrition habits in the borough. (Photo by: Yasmine Guerda)

“We pay now with money, or we pay later with diabetes, obesity, cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases,” the senator said in front of a crowd of 50 people from the neighborhood.

As the founder of the Soundview Health Network, Senator Espada says he has been aware of the health problems in the Bronx for several years. “We know the challenge," he said. "The Bronx is the obesity capital of America, the asthma capital of America, and many other titles that we don’t want anymore.”

The Davidson Community Center had been applying for a grant for five years. “We haven’t worked out all the specifics yet, but what we know so far is that we are going to use the money to buy a van so we can distribute food in various places, like senior residences, health centers and schools,” said Angel Caballero, executive director of the community center.

The money will be used to distribute free fruits and vegetables to residents in need but, more importantly, to organize healthy nutrition workshops. “We want to show people that they can keep eating what they eat but that with slightly different methods of cooking, it can be better for their health,” Martinez said. The workshops will be organized weekly, in Spanish and in English, and will include ethnic recipes, “so nobody is excluded,” she said.

Feat_Espada

The money will be used by the community center to distribute free food and to teach Bronx residents how to eat healthily. (Photo by: Yasmine Guerda)

According to a survey released at the beginning of this month, the 16th Congressional District in the Bronx , encompassing several South Bronx neighborhoods, has the highest hunger rate of the United State.  In the survey, 36 percent of the residents  said they did not have enough money to buy food in the last year.

“The situation has been getting worse and worse lately,” Martinez said. She explained that the group used to be able to put together three food distributions per week; but last year, because of the recession, it barely made it once a week. “Last week, we received two bags of potatoes, two bags of onions and a box of apples. What can we do with that?” she said. This scarcity  made residents lose faith in the community center, she said.

While in previous years the center was able to serve more than 300 families a week, fewer than 50 families a week received free food in the last couple of months. “And it’s really hard, you know, to have people come ask for food and not be able to give them any,” Martinez said.

She claimed that the $200,000 could potentially benefit close to 10,000 people in one year, depending on their needs. "We are confident that this initiative is also going to encourage business owners  to give us more food as well and participate in this effort to create a healthier Bronx,” said Angel Caballero, of the community center. “It’s about creating a positive dynamic in the neighborhood, and this money is going to help us do that. We gotta stick together!”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, FoodComments (2)