The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of hunger to the forefront as many New Yorkers are battling with food insecurity.
According to the New York Mission Society, the number of those suffering with food insecurity in the city is expected to increase 38% by the end of the year due to COVID-19. Food banks and pantries are being pushed to the brink to meet the demand and with the threat of a COVID-19 second wave and colder temperatures, some say the worst is yet to come.
Some of the most vulnerable victims of hunger in the city are children. According to Hunger Free-America NYC, half of the city’s public school children are facing hunger with many getting their only meal at school.
Founded in 2005, Red Rabbit provides made-from-scratch meals in schools while teaching children about healthy eating habits. The company customizes healthy meal programs and educates children, teachers and families about nutrition, gardening and cooking. Red Rabbit cooks all its meals in Harlem and works with 200 charter and independent schools and Head Start programs across the city and serves 25,000 meals a day.
The company was founded by Rhys W. Powell, who studied computer science and engineering at MIT and worked as an equity trader for a privately held financial services firm, Carlin Financial Group. He founded Red Rabbit because he saw a need in the community.
“We want to equip kids with the skills to make good eating decisions for the rest of their lives,” said Powell. “COVID has created a dynamic situation for lots of organizations. Most of the kids that we feed qualify for free or reduced meals and they’re inside the public schools system. Most of their meals come from school.”
When schools shut down in March due to COVID-19, Powell said Red Rabbit had to find creative ways to get meals to children. At the beginning of the pandemic Red Rabbit began a series of mobile routes where they placed their food trucks at locations around the city. Meals were served directly from the trucks throughout the summer.
Since schools have started back up, Red Rabbit began delivering meals to families’ homes to ensure students have meals while they are remote learning. Red Rabbit works with the National School Lunch Program to get its meals to students.
“Most of the kids that we serve in the public school system are Black and Brown kids,” Powell said. “Kids of color are at greater risk of some of these social issues that we’re facing. COVID has exacerbated that in our society. A lot of things that may have been under the rug have come to the surface as we see our community be hard hit by this virus.”
One in seven children in the nation struggle with hunger. Children living in homes battling food insecurity have lower math scores and are more likely to repeat a grade, according to Feeding America. Hunger can also impact behavior, language and motor skills.
“What we do know is the impact that not eating well can have on kids and on people,” Powell said. “The social issues that come from it are obesity, diabetes, the kind of illnesses that affect your ability to live freely.”
Red Rabbit is expanding to New Jersey and Powell said the company wants to serve 100,000 meals a day. Red Rabbit currently has 12 vans to deliver meals and is looking to get more. Go to myredrabbit.com for more information.