In the midst of the holiday season, many food pantries and soup kitchens in Queens are facing more mouths to feed but less food to give to hungry clients.
According to this year’s report by New York City Coalition Against Hunger, the trend is citywide — but Queens has the worst statistics.
Citywide, 20 percent of food charity organizations surveyed said they were facing increased demand. In Queens, 83 percent reported an increased demand and over 70 percent said they didn’t have enough food to meet it. Many of the 54 Queens organizations surveyed also reported less funding this year.
At a press conference at the Center of Hope International Food Pantry in Long Island City, Joel Berg, the coalition’s executive director, said the results of this year’s survey are evidence of an economic downturn, noting that demand citywide nearly doubled between 2006 and 2007.
“When economies get cold, low-income people get pneumonia,” he said.
Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum added that hunger shouldn’t be a topic in the richest city in the world. “This is a government responsibility,” she said. “Hunger doesn’t take a holiday.”
Christy Robb, director of the community outreach and food pantry program run by the Long Island City-based organization Hour Children, said her group is not always able to accommodate its clients.
Between 100 and 150 people show up at the pantry, located on 11th Street between 36th and 37th avenues on a bi-weekly basis.
Robb noted her organization is receiving less financial support, both federally and from private organizations. “The government response to the hunger crisis has been very, very bad,” she said.
The Rev. Mitchell Taylor, with Center of Hope, indicated that the demand keeps going up while the supply keeps going down.
Taylor said the pantry serves nearly 200 people every week. Staffing is always a problem, as the pantry is operated by volunteers.
On Wednesday, Long Island City retiree Elizabeth Darden was waiting outside the center to pick up food for her and her grandson.
Darden thinks the pantry is always a helpful resource when her Social Security check runs out at the end of the month. “I appreciate whatever I can get,” she said.
Darden has been coming to the pantry for nearly five months, and noted that she’d never seen so many people on line.
Other residents waiting to pick up some food for Thanksgiving, many of them seniors, spoke about the difficulty of making ends meet while living on fixed incomes.
Berg indicated that the good news of this year’s survey is that more people are taking advantage of the federal food stamp program, and urged others to find out if they’re eligible.
NYCCAH offered several recommendations in its report, including increasing federal funding for charity organizations and the food stamp program.
The coalition is also calling on all levels of government to make sure anti-poverty plans focus on education, health care, housing and increasing wages.
Mayor Bloomberg recently pledged $1 million in city money to 500 food charity organizations. He also announced an expansion of the city’s 311 system to include trained specialists to help residents with emergency hunger needs.