The New York City Coalition Against Hunger has launched a new online initiative with the goal of attracting more volunteers to food pantries and soup kitchens in the outer boroughs.
Those who wish to dedicate some time to helping those in need can now use the coalition’s new online match system to find shelters nearby. The system allows volunteers to search by borough, zip code or keyword to find organizations that best match their skills and schedules.
“It is the new year and we’re asking people throughout New York to try to volunteer to fight hunger,” said Joel Berg, executive director of NYCCAH.
The coalition’s annual survey of city food pantries and soup kitchens found Queens had the worst statistics of all five boroughs.
Citywide, 20 percent of food charity organizations surveyed reported increased demand. Of the 54 organizations surveyed in Queens, 83 percent reported increased demand, and over 70 percent said they did not have enough food to meet it. More than half of the organizations surveyed in the borough also reported less funding.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, a pastor at Center of Hope International — which operates the Bread of Life Food Pantry in Long Island City — said he expects the pantry will serve upwards of 21,000 people this year, up from approximately 15,000 served between July 2006 and June 2007.
While the pantry currently has a good number of consistent volunteers, Taylor said NYCCAH’s new initiative “is about having a constant rotation so you don’t burn volunteers out.” And for many food pantries that can’t pay their staff, this is a valid concern.
With food costs on the rise, the major challenges this year will be finding the resources and the funding, said Christy Robb, director of the community outreach and food pantry program operated by the Long Island City-based group Hour Children.
While her charity, which has been operating for several years, has a solid core of volunteers at this point, Robb said she can see how retaining a consistent and dedicated group can present a challenge.
But it’s dwindling pantry supplies that keep Robb up at night. She said it is very difficult not having the budget to provide enough food for everyone in need.
“I would like to see the food stamp allocations go up substantially,” Robb said, adding that she’s hopeful a federal farm bill will help the situation by lending more support to the nation’s farmers.
Taylor hopes NYCCAH’s new initiative will give food pantries and soup kitchens greater exposure.“We’re the richest country in the world and there is no need for any child to go to bed hungry,” he said.
To find out more about NYCCAH and its new online volunteer match system, visit www.nyccah.org.