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Hunger NYC: Before and after Sandy

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 5/31/2013, 12:23 p.m.

The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens are facing a dire situation. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger reports that while Hurricane Sandy left numerous people without food, many areas of the city were already suffering before the storm.

The organization's analysis, titled "The Perpetual Storm: NYC Food Insecurity Before--and After--Hurricane Sandy," was released by the organization and leading New Yorkers at a press conference at the Neighborhood Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Center in Gravesend. The study focuses on the effects the storm had on the issue of hunger.

The report outlines that before the storm, 328,294 Brooklyn residents, 321,655 Queens residents and 533,825 Bronx residents lived in households without enough food. After the storm, 85 percent of Brooklyn emergency food providers surveyed were forced to temporarily close or suspend operations while Queens reported that 50 percent of emergency food providers were in the same situation.

Although the Bronx was not the most physically affected of the five boroughs, 32 percent of survey respondents were impacted by the storm, most of them experiencing delayed or canceled food deliveries to their agencies.

"Low-income New Yorkers faced a perpetual storm of hunger long before Hurricane Sandy and will continue to suffer long after the immediate storm cleanup," said Joel Berg, the executive director of the organization. "It should be considered a national scandal that, before the storm, one in four of our children and one in 10 of our seniors struggled against hunger."

Other findings in the report include that almost 11 percent of the responding agencies said they knew of a food pantry, soup kitchen or brown bag program that shut down or closed for business in the past year before Sandy. Thirty-four percent of emergency food providers reported their staff or volunteers sometimes used their own personal money to fund their feeding program.

"Our greatest fear is that, as was the case in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, the most vulnerable residents will be forgotten after the cameras move on to the next disaster," Berg said.

Fifty-six percent of pantries and kitchens reported having to turn away clients, reduce their portion sizes or limit their hours of operation in 2012, compared to 58 percent in 2011, 51 percent in 2010 and 55 percent in 2009. However, the rate is still lower than the organization found in 2008 (69 percent) before a large increase in food stamps/SNAP offset the city's increasing hunger.

"The Coalition's report underscores the severity of the hunger crisis New York faces--a crisis only exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. "As our city continues to rebuild and prepare for the holidays, those of us fortunate enough to have food on our tables should remember how pervasive this issue remains for so many of our neighbors. We need to become a city that commits itself fully to ending hunger and food insecurity as a matter of public policy."

In addition, the organization has launched a nationwide campaign to ask President Barack Obama to recommit to his pledge to end U.S. child hunger by 2015. The campaign is asking for support for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal to increase the purchasing power of SNAP recipients, a vow to veto any farm bill or other legislative measure that further cuts SNAP benefits, expand funding--or at least prevent further cuts--in the WIC program and include in all economic policies an intense focus on creating living-wage jobs for all low-income families.