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10 Ways NYC is Trying to Combat Food Insecurity

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Food insecurity, or the lack of access to enough food for everyone in a household to get adequate nutrition, is a serious issue across America. In New York City, about 14.9 percent of people are food-insecure, according to statistics from the NYC Food Policy Food Metrics Report from 2017.

The city has taken a number of steps to try and reduce the meal gap, or how many meals were missing per person each year. Here are 10 things NYC is doing to reduce food insecurity and increase all New Yorkers’ access to healthy food.

1. Emergency Food Assistance Program

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This program was set up to improve nutrition for households that experience food insecurity. EFAP supplies food and provides funding for over 500 food pantries and community kitchens across the city.

While the program reported that it successfully fed over 14.8 million people in fiscal year 2016, it has previously run into funding issues. In the summer of 2016, a number of food pantries had difficulties meeting demand for food, with many hungry New Yorkers coming away empty-handed.

Summer is a notoriously difficult time for food pantries, because schools are on break and kids aren’t getting school lunches or breakfasts.

“Many times we have to have participants choose between a milk or a juice, we’d love to give them both but we just can’t, it’s impossible,” said Linda Manzione, the program director of Hour Children.

2. SNAP Benefits

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SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is also known as food stamps. SNAP provides recipients with a set amount of money each month to go toward buying food. In NYC, there are over 1,669,000 SNAP recipients.

While SNAP benefits help millions of Americans each year, the amount of money that recipients get in benefits is often not enough to cover a healthy diet. With the Trump administration proposing serious cuts and restrictions to SNAP and other welfare programs, the problems faced by those who rely on government assistance for food could become even worse.

While opponents of SNAP have argued that the program is exploited by those who commit welfare fraud, the reality is that the fraud rate for food stamps was found to be about 1 cent on the dollar in 2006. According to statistics from the USDA, the current rate of SNAP fraud is less than 1.5 percent.

3. Assisting the Elderly

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Many seniors in NYC are also SNAP recipients, and a number of programs work to make food more accessible to them. Almost 20 percent of New York’s seniors live in poverty, and one in ten does not have sufficient food. Many elderly New Yorkers rely on fixed-incomes like social security and benefits to survive.

in 2017, the Robin Hood Foundation worked with the city to target SNAP and other benefit programs toward seniors, expanding outreach and delivery for those who need it.

Citymeals on Wheels is a nonprofit that delivers meals to isolated elderly New Yorkers. According to the nonprofit, more than half of their meal recipients live alone and 40 percent never leave their house, making meal delivery essential.

“On a fixed income, it’s very difficult to be able to afford everything, especially in New York,” said Joel Berg, the CEO of Hunger Free America, another nonprofit focusing on food insecurity.

4. Breakfast in the Classroom

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In 2015, the NYC Department of Education’s SchoolFood office launched its Breakfast in the Classroom program, establishing free, nutritious school breakfasts in 143 schools in the city in its first year.

Offering foods like a zucchini loaf, apples, bagels, and cereal, the program seeks to improve attendance and reduce tardiness by providing breakfast while teachers take attendance in the morning.

5. Nutrition Education Programs

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The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene offers free education programs to provide low-income New Yorkers with knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating.

In the Eat Well, Play Hard program, the Health Department offers six-week courses with dietitians for children aged 3 and 4, as well as their parents.

The Farmer’s Markets for Kids program offers free and bilingual activities at farmers’ markets in the city to encourage children to eat more healthy fruits and veggies. Kids learn about different produce and taste recipes made with healthy ingredients.

6. Farmers’ Markets

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Almost all farmers’ markets in NYC accept EBT benefit cards. According to the city, customers spent more than $1 million in SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets in 2016.

Farmers’ markets provide an important source of fresh fruits and vegetables for areas of the city that may be underserved by traditional grocery stores or have low-income communities that rely on SNAP benefits to pay for food. 62 percent of SNAP benefits spent at farmers’ markets in 2016 went toward fresh vegetables and fruits.

The Youthmarket farm stands program by GrowNYC also works to engage with local communities by employing neighborhood youths at farmers’ markets. In addition to getting jobs, the youths learn about agriculture, small businesses, and food systems in order to take those skills back into their communities.

7. FRESH Program

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The Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program, or FRESH, is designed to give grocery stores incentives to open in parts of the city that do not have full-scale grocery stores or access to fresh produce, also known as food deserts.

Many parts of NYC’s outer boroughs are underserved by traditional grocery stores, and the FRESH program provides zoning and financial incentives for grocery store operators to open in these areas.

Since the program’s inception in 2009, 27 FRESH projects have been approved, and two supermarkets using FRESH incentives opened in 2017. So far, 14 of the FRESH projects are open to the public, creating more 1600 new jobs and increasing access to full-scale grocery stores.

8. Green Carts

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A quicker and less permanent solution to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, NYC Green Carts are mobile cats that sell fresh produce on the street in areas reported to have a low rate of consuming fruits and veggies.

Green Carts stock everything from carrots and apples to more exotic produce like mangoes and papayas.

As of July 2017, the city had 315 Green Carts, and 32 of those were reportedly able to accept EBT.

9. The Food Assistance Collaborative

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Established in 2014, the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative is a program that focuses on making food pantries and community kitchens more efficient and equitable. The Collaborative works with emergency food suppliers to increase supply for areas that need it.

The program identified 12 neighborhoods that were underserved by emergency food programs and set out to increase the food supply and funding for kitchens and pantries in those areas. In the coming year, the Collaborative plans to increase the supply of food for these neighborhoods by 10 million pounds.

The program also created a digital reservation system for pantries called Plentiful, which allows those who need food from pantries to find the food that they need without waiting in line.

10. Community Garden Programs

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GreenThumb offers a Youth Leadership Council for high school students to volunteer in community gardens and learn about sustainability, food initiatives, and urban agriculture from experienced gardeners.

Students have even been invited to meet with the United Nations to tour their food gardens and discuss global food insecurity with U.N. officials.

The Youth Leadership Council has more than 200 volunteers, and allows students to learn more about agriculture and food justice while making a positive impact in their neighborhood with community gardens.

Lead Image Source: Shutterstock

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