The numbers are shocking.
In just five years, the number of New York City residents who depend on food pantries and soup kitchens has shot up to 1.4 million. That’s 200,000 more than in 2008 and it accounts for one-fifth of the city’s residents.
And contrary to popular perception, the vast majority of those battling hunger are not the homeless. They’re older women, they’re working families, they’re children and they’re veterans.
The appalling statistics: 1 in 5 city children live in food scarce homes; 1 in 6 city adults live in food scarce homes; 11.5 percent of people over 60 don’t have enough food, an increase of 33 percent since 2008; 64 percent of people relying on the city’s food pantries and soup kitchens are women; 95,000 food recipients are veterans.
The hunger crisis, and it is indeed a crisis, was spotlighted in lengthy and detailed coverage this week in the New York Daily News, which also pointed out the strains placed on the charitable agencies, many of them Catholic groups, who run the city’s network of some 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens.
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, told the paper that “people are turning to us for emergency help” because it’s so hard for them to find jobs, or decent-paying jobs. Many, he said, don’t have enough to pay rent and to eat.
“It’s an astounding surge in need,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
Rooted in the Great Recession of 2008, the food crisis worsened dramatically when $5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) took effect Nov. 1. Couple that with the increase in real numbers of food stamps recipients since 2008—from 1.3 million New Yorkers then to 1.8 million this year—and you have a much smaller pot stretching to feed many more people. Families saw their monthly food stamps fall by an average of $30 to $50 a month.
It’s no wonder, then, that the pantry at Our Lady of Grace parish in the northeast Bronx had a 100 percent increase in families that month, and nearly half of the city’s pantries and soup kitchens in the city ran out of food.
Everywhere, food pantries and soup kitchens—including the 90 affiliated with archdiocesan Catholic Charities—are reporting longer lines and people showing up earlier, even on the harshest winter days.
That’s one of the reasons that Cardinal Dolan kicked off the 2014 Catholic Charities “Feeding Our Neighbors” food collection for the needy on a frigid January morning. Charitable donations of food and money made during the Christmas season were exhausted by that time, he explained, and “people are hungry.”
The campaign collected enough for 750,000 meals last year and raised its goal to 1 million meals this year.
But even with the good work of faith-based groups and of agencies like City Harvest and the Food Bank for New York City, and even with surplus food from the federal government, private donations and city and state subsidies, the need remains acute. Until the jobs picture brightens, and until we find more affordable housing, the food stamps program, known now as SNAP, should be restored to a healthy level.
As we pointed out on this page in an Aug. 8 editorial called “Keeping Food on the Table,” food stamps are an important piece of the fragile net holding some families together.
Let’s keep that net intact.