Queens lawmaker introduces bill to combat COVID-19 food insecurity

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Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and state Senator George Borello help distribute food to hungry families in Corona. (Photo courtesy of Cruz’s office)

As far too many families in her district continue to be tormented by food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it caused in Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz took legislative action.

Cruz joined forces with western New York state Senator George Borrello to introduce a bill that would establish a permanent program for distributing surplus agricultural products to food banks, similar to the Nourish New York model which was launched in response to people in need as well as farmers upstate impacted by supply chain disruptions.

Cruz and Borrello announced the measure in Corona, after volunteering at a food distribution site organized by La Jornada and the Queens Museum.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits and government entities alike have been left scrambling for resources to ensure that the basic needs of our constituents are met,” Cruz said. “At the height of the pandemic, food lines stretched for miles with no end in sight and without a permanent or sustainable product source. As the crisis continues and food insecurity becomes more severe, this bill aims to provide a state pipeline to put food on the table to those that need it most. While the districts that Senator Borello and I represent are hundreds of miles apart, our constituents share commonality in their dependence on each other for survival.”

The legislation directs the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets to provide financial and technical support for the development of a permanent initiative to provide surplus agricultural products to communities in need. This distribution would be effectuated through a network of food banks and other emergency providers statewide. The measure envisions an expansion of the current, pandemic-specific program and would also complement related efforts, such as the Farm-to-School program.

“In response to increased food insecurity, the state of New York has provided tremendous support through Nourish New York,a program that helps New Yorkers obtain fresh fruits and vegetables grown right here in New York State,” La Jornada Executive Director Pedro Rodriguez said. “Ensuring that the program becomes permanent will provide much-needed relief to our struggling neighbors. On behalf of more than 10,000 clients, we want to thank state Senator George Borrello and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz for pushing to continue a program that is helping thousands of New Yorkers, and for being a beacon of hope at our most darkest time.”

La Jornada and Queens Museum began a partnership in June to provide more than 1,000 families every Wednesday, distributing fresh and nonperishable food items.

“Since the Queens Museum began hosting a food distribution initiative in June, the food pantry has been a tremendous success, feeding and caring for thousands of Queens residents,” Queens Museum President and Executive Director Sally Tallant said. “One of the most impactful aspects of this collaborative initiative has been our ability to put fresh fruits and vegetables in the hands of constituents on a weekly basis. State-supported food relief programs will play a critical role in sustaining this essential service and ensuring that the basic needs of Corona families as well as small-scale food producers are permanently met throughout the duration of this health crisis.”

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