Hunger up, food supplies down

As the holiday season rolls around, several local leaders hope to draw attention to less fortunate Queens residents.
According to a new report by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH), demand was up at more than 80 percent of charitable food pantries and soup kitchens in the borough. However, more than three-quarters - a record number according to the NYCCAH - said that they lacked the supplies needed to meet the growing demand in 2007.
In Queens, 67 percent of charities surveyed said that they had turned away hungry people, cut hours and/or sliced hours of operation this year because of inadequate resources, and according to the Coalition’s 2006 data, one in six New Yorkers lives in a household where there isn’t a steady and sufficient amount of food.
In addition, participation in the city’s Food Stamp Program is up by 318,899 people from 2002, which means that $43 million more will go to low-income New Yorkers each month - $525 million more per year.
“I’m one advocate who thinks that in a perfect world, rising food stamps is not a good thing,” said Joel Berg, Executive Director of NYCCAH, at a press conference in Long Island City on Wednesday, November 21.
Berg pointed to the increased need at feeding centers as indicative of an economic slowdown and predicted harder times as the amount of funding from government sources continued to decrease while non-profits shoulder more of the financial burden.
“Only government has the resources and scope,” Berg said.
Although Governor Eliot Spitzer recently allocated $5 million statewide - about $2 million for the city - to restock food pantries for the holidays, federal donations dropped by 12 million pounds of food this year.
“I’ve been in the food industry for 17 years, and I have never seen so little food and such high prices and so many people trying to get it,” said Christy Robb, from Our Children, an organization and food pantry geared towards helping women who have recently been released from prison.
Local politicians including State Senator John Sabini, Councilmember Eric Gioia and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum pledged to try to provide for local organizations but also asked that the public donate goods, money and time at soup kitchens, pantries and shelters.
At the Bread of Life, a food pantry run out of the Center of Hope International in Long Island City recently named by the Food Bank as the best of 1,000 in the city, organizers have seen a surge in the number of families they feed.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, pastor of the Center of Hope, said that they were on track to serve 22,000 families this year, up from 17,000 last year and 15,000 in 2005.
On Tuesday, November 20, the Bread of Life handed out 450 turkeys to Queensbridge, Woodside and Ravenswood housing residents.
“We gave out so many turkeys, but still it was never enough,” Taylor said, while surveying two-dozen people waiting for food the day before Thanksgiving.
“When you’re making minimum wage and you have kids in your house, it’s just hard to make the food budget,” he said, explaining that the group also has college prep classes and workforce development. “My objective is to work the food pantry out of a job.”

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