We live in the most sophisticated city on the planet. So good they named it twice. And it’s true, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But “making it” is getting to be a tougher call every year for some of us. Nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers are staring hunger in the face – and that includes around one in four children.
At the same time, we toss out more food than ever, as individuals and collectively – from restaurants, grocery stores and businesses. In this city, we have access to copious amounts of every kind of food, yet a growing number of soup kitchen are popping up just across the street.
Closing this gap are groups like City Harvest, which “rescues” unused, unsold food from restaurants and stores so that, instead of going to waste, it goes to feeding those in real need.
“The soup kitchens and food pantries where we deliver food serve the homeless,” says City Harvest’s Meg Davidson, “but hunger is not limited to this group of people. The people we help feed may be seniors whose fixed incomes haven’t kept up with the rising cost of living in the city, and parents choosing between school uniforms, utilities and rent, let alone groceries.
It could be the working mom who has trouble making ends meet by month’s end.”
The group was founded in 1982 by a group of volunteers who noticed food going to waste at restaurants in their neighborhood, and who began picking up the leftovers and dropping them off at nearby soup kitchens.
“42% of New York City households – 2.7 million men, women and children – lack the income needed to cover basic necessities like food, shelter, transportation, and healthcare.”
Fast forward three decades, and they’ll rescue and deliver 55 million pounds of food this year. “Our Food Rescue Facility in Long Island City, Queens, has allowed us to achieve incredible growth in the last five years,” says Meg, “and we now have 22 trucks on the road.
“Recognizing that emergency food is only part of the solution, our Healthy Neighborhoods programs take a long-term approach to hunger in communities with high rates of diet-related diseases and limited access to healthy, affordable food. Working alongside these communities, these programs aim to increase access to affordable, nutritious food and inspire healthy choices with nutrition education and other programs.”
The need has never been greater. Between 2008 and 2014, the network of community food programs — the soup kitchens and food pantries across the city where they deliver the rescued food — saw visits increase by 30%. “The economy may have improved,” says Meg, “but New York’s poverty and unemployment rates remain higher than the national and state averages. For many, income hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living: 42% of New York City households – 2.7 million men, women and children – lack the income needed to cover basic necessities like food, shelter, transportation, and healthcare.”
On a routine pick-up with the City Harvest truck, we visit neighborhood bakeries like Amy’s Bread and Sullivan Street to collect huge bags of bread that wasn’t sold the previous day. And they’re not alone.
“In 2015, we rescued food from thousands of donors,” says Meg. “All kinds of businesses donate food — from neighborhood bakeries, corporate cafeterias, Michelin-starred restaurants, grocery stores, greenmarkets, high-end hotels, quick service restaurants, food delivery services like Blue Apron, caterers, religious institutions, to large scale events, wholesalers, and farmers around the state.”
The recipients, in turn, work miracles to create wholesome, balanced meals for the city’s hungry. But before you start packing up those on-the-turn tomatoes from your refrigerator, you should know they can’t accept donations from individuals. What you CAN do, however, is donate financially to the cause. It costs City Harvest just 26 cents to rescue and deliver a pound of food, and 93 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to support its programs.
What about donating your time? There are opportunities for people to collect and distribute food, join nutritional advice programs, administrative roles and more.
Demand still far outweighs supply, but if we all play our part, we can make a real difference to ordinary New Yorkers’ lives.