Food Banking During Covid-19: One Year Later

(Joel Muniz)

By Samantha Haase

New York City is home to 99 billionaires yet 40% of the city’s population experiences food hardship, according to Robinhood, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger in the city.

When COVID first arrived in the city, the 741 different pantries and soup kitchens became essential businesses. For many New Yorkers, it resulted in navigating the process for the first time in their lives.

Ana Garcia, a college student who lives in the Bronx, was one of the first-time food bank users. Last year this month, Garcia and her family applied for emergency food assistance nonprofit, Get Food NYC. “Half of my family had COVID, both in the Dominican Republic and here, and my family lost their jobs,” she said. “The city was giving out a food bank plan that we registered for, and we also go to food banks in the Bronx and grocery stores.” For Garcia, the situation was dire, as her family had to adjust to functioning with less money and unemployment checks to get by.

Get Food NYC was launched in response to COVID as a way to deliver food, both cooked and uncooked, to households safely. “My mom and I tried to do food stamps and we never were able to get it and food bank was a plus and more convenient and affordable for us.”

The process of getting food stamps is often long and tedious and can take months to be accepted into the program. Get Food NYC works by providing an interactive map that simply offers locations of food pantries, grocery stores and farmers markets, and grab and go meals at most NYC schools.

But with the pandemic looming on to the two-year mark, a third of the food pantries have temporarily closed across the city, with The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens seeing the highest number of closures, according to a new report from the Food Bank for New York. The food banks closed for a number of reasons: drained resources because of higher demand caused many to run out of food to give, and many were run by seniors, who were among the most vulnerable to the virus at the height of the pandemic.

“Our warehouse is open, our trucks are on the road, and our staff are out in communities every day bringing food to those who need it most, and with the help of our partners in government and throughout the city, we will continue to pursue every opportunity available to support low-income New Yorkers as we all take on this pandemic together,” said Food Bank for NYC President and CEO Leslie Gordon in a press release last June.

Garcia and her family are just a fraction of the estimated 1.2 million New Yorkers that rely on food banks. According to Food Banks for New York, one of the largest nonprofits in the city, almost 75 percent of food banks and pantries saw an increase in recipients during COVID. Based on data provided by Open Data NYC, the table below notes that during the same three-month period across three years, food pantries and soup kitchens saw their highest numbers being reported between 2019 and 2020.

For Garcia, she thinks that, given the circumstances, the experience was a good one. “For us it was good because it helps us again with saving the money for groceries to pay the phone or others bills.” Even though the pandemic exacerbated the struggles that come with living in New York, the city isn’t that much different from other cities experiencing poverty and hunger insecurity.

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