Layoffs, downsizing, unemployment and financial problems aren’t the only problems New Yorkers are facing. Going to sleep hungry should be a problem that people don’t have, but in parts of Queens it’s a problem people face everyday.
A recent survey by Gallup on behalf of the Washington, DC-based Food Research and Action Center showed that in 2009-10, residents in seven of New York’s 13 congressional districts still face severe food hardships.
As part of the partnership with Healthways, a global health management company, Gallup interviewed 1,000 households per day since January 2009 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project. Through December, more than 650,000 people were asked a series of questions including their mental health, physical health, work environment and access to basic services.
The New York City Coalition Against Hunger has joined FRAC in efforts to improve federal nutrition programs, including food stamps, child nutrition programs, creating more well paying jobs and to reduce unemployment. Joel Berg, the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said he is concerned about the results of the survey, but is not surprised. People believe the recession is over, but that is simply not the case, Berg said.
“The fact is things have gone from bad to worse,” Berg said.
Some districts in New York have it far worse than anywhere else in the country, he said. Weiner’s and Meeks district’s have more people facing hunger hardship “than any other industrialized nation in the world,” Berg added. Recently Berg and some of his colleagues met with congressmen in Washington, DC to share the results of the survey.
“There are cuts pending that could make things worse,” he said. “We’re certainly intensifying our food stamps outreach. Given how much Queens is hurting, it’s no wonder how much the city is hurting.”
The 7th District, represented by Joe Crowley (D-Queens and Bronx), is struggling to keep stomachs full. In his district 23.8 percent of the residents are in food hardship. It ranks third in hardship within the city and ranks 65th in the nation.
Crowley said he is disturbed by the results of the survey, however, he believes his district’s results are higher due to the fact that some of his district is in the Bronx. In an interview, Crowley explained his district is diverse ethnically, racially and financially. Most of his priorities and problems are primarily in the Bronx, he added.
He said one ongoing cause of hunger will be the $750 million cuts made to the WIC program by Congress on Feb. 19. WIC provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education to at-risk infants, children and pregnant women.
“It further demonstrates the lack of moral commitment that we go without in this country,” Crowley said. “I’m surprised given the fact that we know how high unemployment has been lately.”
Crowley has visited soup kitchens and food pantries, but believes having healthy food to eat is as important as having any. He said one goal of his is to have more farmers markets in Queens.
The other four districts in Queens that are facing hunger hardships are represented by: Nydia Velazquez (D-Queens and Brooklyn), Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), Gary Ackerman (D-Queens and Nassau) and Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn). All four could not be reached for comment.
Like many institutions, the Ridgewood Center for Older Adults is doing its best to keep people’s stomachs full, said Jacqueline Eradiri, the assistant director of social services. It is sad seeing so many people come to the center for food, but it is gratifying to know that a hot meal is being given to people, she said.
The center is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the majority of the food is donated by food pantries, churches and bakeries. However, because it is mostly donations once or twice a month the center will run out of food, she said.
“To try to feed the needy is getting tough,” she said. “It can be overwhelming. We give out what we can. For the most part people are happy.”
In the past two months, 1,375 people have come to the center for food, Eradiri said, and each day there are about 133 people eating there. The center will be holding a fundraiser on March 30, entitled “March for Meals”.
“March is a month that you should think about people that are hungry,” she said.
Across the borough, the Rev. Christopher O’Connor of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Jamaica said he is doing his best to help others in need The church has a soup kitchen that is open on Tuesdays for 45 minutes and on average serves 125 to 150 people.
The food is prepared and cooked at the church and funding is provided by the New York City Council for Hunger and the United Way. Food kitchens and pantries have always been needed, but more than ever today, he said.
“It picked up when the market crashed,” O’Connor said.
With high unemployment and the bad economy, it isn’t just homeless people coming to the church, he said. In addition to food, the church often receives clothing and cleaning supplies as donations.
“There’s always going to be hunger no matter where you are at,” O’Connor said. “People that are better off should always give back to the community.”