Existing programs to connect the needy with the nutritious food they need can — and must — be used more creatively for the foreseeable future, according to Democrats running for the City Council in the 27th District.
Attorney Joan Flowers, Community Board 13 member Gregory Mays, transit union leader Daneek Miller and Sondra Peeden all spoke at a forum sponsored by Food Bank for New York City.
Manuel Caughman, an aide to Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica), also is running for the seat now held by Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
Neither Caughman nor fellow candidate Clyde Vanel were in attendance at the forum.
Comrie is vacating the seat because of term limits. He has endorsed Miller, while the county Democratic Party is backing Caughman.
The forum took place at Resurrection Lutheran Church on 114th Road in St. Albans. Triada Stampas of the Food Bank said there are 300,000 people in Queens alone living in food insecurity due to things such as poverty, unemployment or even underemployment.
Miller said existing state and federal programs such as food stamps and SNAP can help more people, even with cuts being threatened in Congress.
“Education at the local level can help people have access to those programs,” he said.
Flowers and Mays agreed that educating people who need help on how to get it is important. But Flowers also said even if the city increases awareness and applications at schools, churches, libraries, senior centers and websites, it still must convince some people to ask for the help they need.
“There’s a stigma attached to it,” she admitted.
Peeden said public-private partnerships can get more food from food providers to programs and individuals who need it.
Flowers and Peeden said the city can use its zoning powers to make certain areas more attractive to supermarkets. Miller said different incentives could be crafted to encourage smaller stores and shops to introdue or expand their selection of fresh produce.
Mays said the existing farmers market programs could include facets such as regular visits to senior centers to make produce more available.
And all said that whoever wins must prioritize discretionary Council funding for food pantries and nutrition programs.
All agreed that luring businesses to Southeast Queens that would bring jobs would in turn provide more income for people who would support the stores and markets that provide both the jobs and easier access to food.
Mays said the same education and information push must be made to help those whom he called structurally unemployed, steering people such as ex-convicts who can have a very difficult time finding work to existing programs designed to help them.