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Queens food pantries fearing cuts to hunger funding

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

Since the start of the recession, River Fund Executive Director Swami Durga Das said he has seen the families coming to his Richmond Hill food pantry nearly double and he worries that planned state and federal cuts could make the problem worse.

“I think they really would struggle where to find their food and their next meal sometimes,” Das said.

The Food Bank for New York, which has partnerships with 200 food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the borough, said they are concerned about a number of cuts to federal hunger prevention programs coming down the pipeline.

The most recent state executive budget turns the dedicated funding for the Hunger Prevention & Nutrition Assistance Program into a competitive funding pool where it will have to vie with other federal programs treating hunger for funds every year. The automatic cuts from sequestration — planned for March 1 — could also drop 35,700 New York state families from the Women, Infants and Children food program, putting a further strain on the emergency food system.

The Food Bank is also worried about a 10 percent reduction in food stamps set for November 2013.

“I think it’s going to have some really far-reaching impacts with respect to programs that serve low-income New Yorkers,” said Triada Stampas, senior director of government relations for the city Food Bank, “everything from housing programs to education programs to child care programs to nutrition programs.”

Das’ River Fund food pantry, at 89-11 Lefferts Blvd. in Richmond Hill, once served 200 to 300 families a week, but since the recession hit in late 2008, the pantry has started serving about 500 to 700 households a week. The number of seniors they serve has also gone up by a third. Das said the Hunger Prevention program accounts for the lifeblood of their food pantry’s funding, especially since additional funding sources have declined since the recession.

“So any change to the HPNAP funding that’s not an increase would really affect us drastically,” he said.

Das said the face of hunger in the borough has changed. Many people think of the homeless when they think of hungry people, but several working people are using the food pantry to supplement meagre incomes. Sometimes food pantries can save families from having to make the choice between going without food to pay for medicine or rent.

“It really unearthed the problem, the disaster under this, and that’s food insufficiency,” Das said of the recession.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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