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Families struggle to put food on the table

10/12/2011, 1:18 p.m.

CYRIL JOSH BARKER

Amsterdam News Staff

Linda Bethea travels all the way from the Bronx to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH) food pantry in Manhattan to get food for her and her five children. The single mother was one of hundreds of people at the city's largest food pantry picking up food this week.

"This helps out a lot because I'm on public assistance," she said. "The food stamps are not enough. We get low on food and the kids would go without if we didn't have this. Food is getting more expensive. I'm looking for work but it's hard to get work."

Bethea was one of several New Yorkers who recently got cuts in food stamps over the last couple of months. She was getting $525 a month for food and is now getting about $400 a month.

While community organizations, food pantries and kitchens are making sure everyone has a meal on Thanksgiving Day, families across the city are in need of food assistance throughout the year. Combining, rising food costs, unemployment and cuts to food stamp programs, the number of those in need has soared in recent years.

"With the recession and high unemployment, the need for emergency food has nearly doubled," said Doreen Wohl, executive director of WSCAH. "In 2007, WSCAH served an average of 137 households a day; in October 2010, we served an average of 217 households a day."

Wohl added that half of WSCAH customers are families with children and 18 percent are working but not earning enough money for basic necessities.

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that one in eight New Yorkers, about 12 percent, experience hunger. The average for the nation is just under 10 percent. From 2004 to 2006 over 50 million Americans lived in households that were struggling against hunger. In the last two years, the demand for emergency food programs has increased by more than 25 percent annually.

Living with several medical problems, Shelly Kinley is a veteran and suffers to make ends meet to buy food. He travels from Flatbush, Brooklyn to the Upper West Side once a month to get food he needs to stay healthy.

"I can't work anymore and it's hard," he said. "I'm a veteran so this helps me. I'm here every month and it helps me get through. I'm on SSI and that's good but I still have rent to pay. They cut my food stamps from $200 to $60."

Mark Dunlea, executive director of Hunger Action network of NYS said that it's the poor who are suffering more than any other group during the rescission. He said, "The rest of the country might be in a recession but the poor are in a depression, with unemployment rates in excess of 30 percent. Band-Aids are not going to get our economy working again, especially for low-income individuals. Taxpayers were forced to bail out Wall Street but Main Street is where the abandoned storefronts are."

New York City Coalition Against Hunger announced this week in its survey that New York City food pantries and soup kitchens grew by 6.8 percent this year, on top of a 20.8 percent increase in 2009. Most hungry New Yorkers were able to get by thanks in large part to federal stimulus funding for emergency food and boosts to the food stamps program.