Meet Our Staff

Filomena Acevedo, Director of Organizing
(212) 825-0028 x221 l

Filomena resized 144.jpg

Filomena coordinates the East Harlem and the Bronx Food Action Boards (FABs), which mobilizes low-income community members concerned with hunger and other anti-poverty initiatives in their communities.

She worked for over ten years at the Morrisania Health Center with the City of New York. She also worked at the Department of Refugee and Services, as well as the Immigration and Naturalization Services. She has lived and worked in New Orleans, where she was selected as a Representative of the Children’s Health Insurance for Low Income Children (C.H.I.P) to address the State Legislature in Baton Rouge, which resulted in the children being awarded with health insurance. Filomena studied Sociology at Herbert Lehman College in the Bronx.

Filomena's favorite foods are fresh fruits such as strawberries and blueberries, as she fights everyday for low-income individuals to be able to gain access to affordable, nutritious produce.

Magen Allen, Director of Communications

(212) 825-0028 x 212 l

Magen Resized.png

Magen serves as the Director of Communications for Hunger Free America, where she oversees the organization's public message. This includes executing media relationships, communications strategy, social and traditional media, as well as writing and overseeing all web content. 

Magen's passion for poverty reduction and anti-hunger work runs deep. Growing up in rural Eastern Washington state, she witnessed early on how difficult it is for our country's small farmers to get by and afford food for themselves. Prior to her current role, Magen was the Communications Intern with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and was hired on full time following her graduation.

Magen holds a B.A. in Global Studies from LIU Global, where she spent four years of her undergraduate degree studying social justice issues in Costa Rica, Taiwan, Thailand, India, Turkey, China, South Africa, and the United States. Her undergraduate thesis was on the roles of public and private sector initiatives in the fight against hunger in the United States. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Her favorite food: blueberries! Magen's first job was on a small blueberry farm in rural Eastern Washington state, where she became known as the blueberry girl.  While there, she drove across the state to sell organic blueberries to Whole Foods and small shops alike, always with a basket of blueberries by her side.

Paul Bennett, Director of Finance & Administration
(212) 825-0028 x209 l

Paul resized again.jpg

Paul Bennett is currently the Director of Finance and Administration for Hunger Free America. He coordinates the administrative, financial, and office support work, processing a range of financial reports for federal, state and city offices. Paul also oversees Hunger Free America's operating budget and billing for various grants.

Paul has over 10 years of experience in the non-profit sector as a financial officer and consultant, serving over 200 organizations. Paul spent seven years at Nonprofit Finance Fund where he served as a Senior Consultant and Director of Analytics, amongst other roles. Prior to the nonprofit sector, Paul worked as an analyst focusing on mergers and acquisitions in the financial services sector. Paul has taught as an adjunct professor at NYU, and is an alumni of the Coro Fellows Program.  He received an MPA from Baruch College and a BA in economics from Binghamton University.

Paul's favorite food: dried mangos, "Because they are chewy and delicious. Plus, they help your body work smoothly."

Joel Berg, CEO
(212) 825-0028 x204 l

Joel resized.jpg

Joel Berg is a nationally recognized leader and media spokesman in the fields of domestic hunger, food security, obesity, poverty, food-related economic development, national service, and volunteerism.  He is CEO of Hunger Free America. He is also the author of All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? , the definitive and most well-reviewed book on American hunger of the last decade. Seven Stories Press just publish his second book, “America We Need to Talk: a Self Help Book for the Nation.” Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison called the book important and entertaining.

Since 2001, Berg has led Hunger Free America, formerly known as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger throughout its many successes. Joel has grown the nonprofit into a multi-million-dollar, respected national champion for Americans struggling to obtain nutritious food. Hunger Free America is building a nonpartisan grassroots movement coast-to-coast to enact the economic policies and programs needed to finally solve the problem of domestic hunger. Operating on the philosophy, “Ending hunger lifts us all,” Joel and his team advocate for systemic change across the country, seeking higher wages, more living wage jobs, and a stronger nutrition safety net. The group also manages AmeriCorps*VISTA national service projects in 29 states and the USDA National Hunger Hotline, which provides callers the tools they need to obtain government and private food resources close to home. Joel is recognized as a powerful voice arguing for skilled volunteerism and has led his organization to establish a nationwide volunteer matching website, allowing people to best use their special skills like accounting, web design, or fundraising to help local soup kitchens and food pantries beyond packing cans or serving food.

Prior to his work with the Hunger Free America, Berg served for eight years in the Clinton Administration in senior executive service positions at USDA. For two years, he acted as USDA Coordinator of Community Food Security, a new position in which he created and implemented the first-ever federal initiative to better enable faith-based and other nonprofit groups to fight hunger, bolster food security, and help low-income Americans move out of poverty.

In addition, Berg worked as USDA Coordinator of Food Recovery and Gleaning for two years, working with community groups to increase the amount of food recovered, gleaned, and distributed to hungry Americans. Also while at USDA, he served as Director of National Service, Director of Public Liaison, and as acting Director of Public Affairs and Press Secretary. From 1989 to 1993, he served as a policy analyst for the Progressive Policy Institute and as a domestic policy staff member for then President-elect Bill Clinton’s transition team.

Berg has been published widely on the topics of hunger, national and community service, and grassroots community partnerships. These include recent papers on what President Obama can do to improve hunger metrics in the United States and other papers on childhood hunger and poverty, obesity, and practical solutions to end hunger when he was a Senior Fellow for the Center for American Progress.  He has also published papers on creating food jobs and other topics for the Progressive Policy Institute.

A native of Rockland County, NY, and a graduate of Columbia University, Berg now resides in Brooklyn. He is the past winner of the US Secretary of Agriculture’s Honor Award for Superior Service (one of the Department’s highest honors) and the Congressional Hunger Center’s Mickey Leland National Hunger Fighter Award. Joel also serves on the board of the Human Services Council.

Joel's desert island food: dumplings! “Properly prepared and cooked, Chinese pan-fried dumplings (known on the U.S. west coast as pot stickers) are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, the perfect combination of textures. To eat them properly, you need to cover them with a mix of soy sauce, chili paste, and vinegar, which turns them from ultra-delightful to ultra-even more delightful.” -Joel Berg

Charlene Caceres, Program Coordinator, National Hunger Hotline
(212) 825 0028 x234 l

charlense C resized.jpg

Charlene joined the Hunger Free America team in December 2014, where she serves as a Program Coordinator for the USDA National Hunger Hotline. Charlene is responsible for collecting and disseminating information about federal nutrition programs, emergency food providers, and public and private programs that improve the lives of low-income individuals and families contacting the Hotline. Prior to joining the NYCCAH team, Charlene was an Office Manager at Premier Health Care (YAI), a nonprofit organization that specializes in medical services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Charlene graduated from Kaplan University with a degree in Human Services Administration and is currently a member of Toast Masters International Club. Charlene’s goal is to utilize her leadership skills and abilities in order to provide services to individuals and families in need.

Charlene's favorite food are strawberries, "Because they are great low calorie snack and they are super yummy"

Benson Chan, Benefits Access Associate
(212) 825-0028 x321 l

Benson Resized.jpg

Benson worked for the Chinese American Planning Council's (CPC) Chung Pak Day Care Center for 11 years as an Educator that provided Early Education for low income families from Manhattan's Chinatown. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he wanted to do more for the residents of Chinatown. He joined University Settlement's Project Hope as a Crisis Counselor immediately after the storm. He provided immediate Crisis Counseling to individuals affected by Sandy utilizing Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR) to help them recover and become more resilient when faced with crises. He also connected residents to their neighbors in order to build a stronger sense of community while assisting them in accessing disaster related services such as long term counseling, Disaster SNAP benefits, and applying for FEMA assistance.

Benson's favorite food: Spaghetti and Meatballs! "It's a simple food that you can make very elegant with everyday ingredients, making it a very versatile dish. Growing up this was one of my favorite dishes that my grandma made for me as a child."

Sheila Ramos-Corrales, Benefits Access Associate
(212) 825-0028 x241 l

Sheila resized.jpg

Sheila works on Hunger Free America’s Nutritional Outreach Education Project (NOEP) and visits farmer's markets, Bronx supermarkets, and community based organizations to prescreen clients for food stamp eligibility. She also assists clients with electronic food stamp applications and re-certifications as part of HFA's Paperless Office System (POS) and Recertification Improvement Project (RIP).

Sheila attended Bronx Community College and Lehman College for Business Administration. She has worked for over 20 years in the nonprofit sector, providing social services to the East Harlem community. Prior to working at NYCCAH, she worked at the Yorkville Common Pantry doing Single Stop services and administrative / secretarial duties for the Executive Director and Board of Directors.

Miguelina Diaz, Food Support Connections Program Manager
(212) 825 0028 x213 l

Miguelina resized.jpg

Miguelina is part of the Benefit Access Team in NYCCAH. She dedicates the majority of her time to helping clients successfully complete the process of applying and recertifying for SNAP / Food Stamps benefits, ensuring that the correct amount of benefits are received in a timely manner. She also conducts outreach and pre-screenings at community-based locations, informing people of their potential eligibility for SNAP benefits.

Miguelina received her B.S. in Accounting from Hunter College. Prior to working at NYCCAH, she worked for the NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene as a program assistant in an effort to increase healthier food access in corner stores. This included encouraging residents to demand healthier food in low income neighborhoods throughout the South Bronx and in East and Central Harlem.

Favorite Food: Pickles! "I selected Pickles because it’s a food I’ve enjoyed eating since I was a really young. As a child I was a very picky eater, however anytime  my mom mentioned pickles I was the first in line. Eating pickles reminds me of how much I’ve grown to liking different food."

Victoria Dumbuya: Director, National AmeriCorps VISTA Program
(212) 825-0028 x219 l

Vicky resized.jpg

Victoria Dumbuya manages Hunger Free America’s AmeriCorps*State program. In this capacity, she is responsible for managing the program, which places 26 full- and part-time members at soup kitchens, food pantries, and anti-poverty organizations throughout New York City. She joined the Coalition in Fall 2006.

A graduate of Rutgers University, Victoria previously served as an AmeriCorps national service Team and Service Leader at Hands on Atlanta, a non-profit that coordinates tens of thousands of volunteers with service opportunities in over 400 organizations and schools throughout Atlanta, Georgia.

Vicky's favorite food: Baked Ziti!

Denise Fernandez, NOEP Program Coordinator
(212) 825-0028 x207 l

Denise Resized.jpg

Denise is a member of Hunger Free America's Nutrition Outreach and Education Program (NOEP) staff. NOEP offers free and confidential services to connect hungry New Yorkers with nutrition assistance programs, especially food stamps. In an effort to reach eligible NYC residents, Denise travels through out the city to educate the diverse communities about ways to apply for and receive food stamps.

Denise graduated from Skidmore College with a major in Government and a minor in International Affairs. She worked in the private sector for 3 years before joining Hunger Free America's Benefits Access team.

Denise's favorite food: Chocolate!  "Because it's so easy to share with others…or not :)"

Gerald Halpern, Chief Development Officer
(212) 825-0028 x208 l

Jerry Second Shot 4 resized.jpg

Gerald Halpern is Chief Development Officer for Hunger Free America, leading initiatives to secure individual, foundation, corporate, and planned gifts to support HFA's fight against hunger and poverty. He has served as Executive Director of the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Long Island Regional Director for the UJA-Federation of New York and Assistant Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. In business, Halpern has served as CEO of Virany International and as an officer of Bank Hapoalim. He holds an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland. Halpern has volunteered in nonprofit and municipal education, community planning, branding, and business development programs.

Erin Johnson, Benefits Access Associate
(212) 825-0028 x216 l

Erin Resized

As part of the Benefits Access Team, Erin manages the update, design, and distribution of the Neighborhood Guides to Food & Assistance, which help connect New Yorkers in need with food stamps, food pantries, and other free community resources.

Erin grew up outside of Chicago and received her BS in Design & Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree at NYU focusing on urban agriculture and sustainable community development and is a member of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Volunteer Committee. Prior to Hunger Free America, Erin worked at the NY chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and spent a year in Israel working with asylum seekers.

Erin's favorite food: Cheese! "I chose cheese because it’s my favorite food! As a vegetarian, it’s a good source of protein, plus there are tons of varieties, and it’s a great way to preserve perishable milk."

Rebecca Ligrani, Director of Strategic Volunteerism
(212) 825-0028 x237 l

Rebecca L. Bio resized.jpg

Becca Ligrani joined Hunger Free America in 2016 and leads the Strategic Volunteerism Department. She coordinates and oversees all volunteer activities for HFA, and works with emergency food providers to enhance their own volunteer programs. Prior to coming to HFA, she worked as an Engaged Scholarship Coordinator at Penn State, apprenticed on a CSA farm in Washington State, and cultivated her love of coffee by working as a barista in upstate NY and WA. Becca received her master’s degree from Virginia Tech in Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, focusing on community food work processes and practices that can restructure more equitable food systems. A volunteer herself, Becca is on the leadership team of the North American Food Systems Network, an emergent professional development organization for food systems practitioners.

Becca’s favorite food? A classic New York egg sandwich. Why? Four words: delicious, portable, affordable, customizable!  

Fabio Martinez, Benefits Access Associate
(212) 825-0028 x235 l

Fabio resized.jpg

Fabio meets with clients at our community-based host agencies to submit electronic food stamps applications and recertifications on their behalf, utilizing the Paperless Office System (POS). He is also the lead trainer for new staff utilizing this process. Fabio has been with Hunger Free New York City in this capacity for four years. Prior to joining HFNYC, Fabio worked with a non-profit agency in the Bronx, where he managed a food pantry and soup kitchen and performed other administrative functions.

Janelle McCoy, Associate Director of the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps
(212) 825-0028 x238 l

Jannelle McCoy is one of the Associate Directors of the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps program and is responsible for VISTA placement site partnerships. She began her time with Hunger Free America by serving as a VISTA Member with NYCCAH's New York City-based program, followed by a year as a VISTA Leader working with a team of VISTA members with the New York City program. She took a hiatus from working with HFA when she was offered a position with the New York City Parks Department as a Conservation Corps Fellow. She served with NYC Parks for a few years as a volunteer coordinator with their Stewardship/MillionTreesNYC program. She worked to recruit and manage thousands of volunteers to plant and steward trees all around NYC. 

Jannelle grew up in Queens, NY and graduated from CUNY-Hunter College and recieved a BA in English with a concentration in Literature and Criticism.  She has a passion for volunteer management and is happy to play a part in the fight against hunger once again.

Eva Minkin, Benefits Access Associate
(212) 825-0028 x220 l

Eva Resized.png

Eva Minkin is a Benefits Specialist at Hunger Free NYC, focusing on ensuring that eligible households gain access to SNAP benefits by helping them apply, coaching them through the application process, and confirming that benefits are received. Her fluency in Russian is useful in helping certain populations for whom English is not a primary language. Before this position, she had worked on several farms which helped her gain a firsthand appreciation for healthy, nutritious food, and empowered her to work towards providing access to it for all populations. She received a B.A in Sociology and Environmental Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA.

"Potatoes are my favorite food because they're such a versatile product: you can cook them in so many different ways, including healthy options and sometimes not so much (such as the chips I chose for my photo!)" Thanks for sharing your chips Eva!

Amanda Melpolder, Director of Child Nutrition
(212) 825-0028 x210 l

amanda M resized better 2.jpg

Amanda Melpolder serves as Director of Child Nutrition at Hunger Free America. She has spent her career fighting for social justice and is passionate about food. She cut her political teeth in the office of the Majority Lead of the House of Representatives of the Connecticut General Assembly. She attended the Yale Women's Campaign School and has run several successful political campaigns. She came to New York for graduate school and stayed after earning a Master's Degree in Urban Policy Analysis and Management from the Robert J. Milano Graduate School a graduate program at the New School University. She has worked for several labor unions (SEIU, Local 32BJ and the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981) advocacy organizations (the Innocence Project, Jewish Funds for Justice and others) and was a private investigator specialized in gun trafficking and international money laundering. Under her pseudonym Mia-Rut, she wrote as the Editor-in-Chief of the Jew and the Carrot, a blog focused on environmentally friendly food and cooking, and has been writing a book on food and Judaism. She is one of the founding Board Members of the egalitarian minyan Shir HaMaalot Brooklyn. Because of her love of food and cooking she attended the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts. Since graduating from culinary school, she has been working as a personal chef and teaching cooking classes. She has also volunteered in homeless shelters, food kitchens and with the Brooklyn Food Coalition.

Maria Remache, Benefits Access Associate
(646) 836 9177 x243  l

Maria resized.jpg

Maria was born and raised in Ecuador. Since coming to the US, she attended Borough of Manhattan Community College and has worked for 11 years for different nonprofit organizations, including Sunnyside Community Services and Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Most of her experience has involved helping eligible NYC residents access the SNAP (food stamps) program. Maria joined Hunger Free America in December 2013 and provides SNAP pre-screening and application assistance from several host locations in Queens.

Maria's Favorite Food: Grapefruit!

Joshua Rivera, Associate Director of the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps, Craig Murphey Fellow
(212) 825-0028 ext. 205 l

JO Resized.jpg

J.O. is currently the Associate Director of the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps where he oversees the VISTA Trainings.  J.O. began his time with Hunger Free America by serving as a a VISTA member with NYCCAH's New York City-based program and a City Year Corps member in the South Bronx. Prior to coming back to Hunger Free America, JO was a VISTA Leader with the Governors Commission on Community Service in Denver, Colorado where he focused on early childhood literacy, disaster relief, and overall program management.

JO's Favorite Food: Lasagna

Jennifer Tenenbaum, Executive Assistant and Office Manager
(212) 825-0028 x332 l

Jen resized 144.jpg

Jen serves as the Executive Assistant and Office Manager, where she oversees administrative and office needs. She is also serving as the Program Coordinator for the Farm Fresh Community Supported Agriculture Project, which distributes high-quality, sustainably grown, affordable produce in some of the city’s most impoverished communities.

Jen graduated with a B.S. in Public Health from the University of Maryland where she studied both domestic and international issues related to public health. Her focus was on physical, mental, and social well-being of individuals and families living in communities with inadequate access to healthcare, social services, and resources to meet basic needs , which is what led her to Hunger Free America.

As a native Brooklynite, Jen chose to be pictured with a bagel, which is a staple in her diet. She feels fortunate to have always had access to and has always been able to afford a fresh bagel.

Vanna Valdez, Benefits Access Associate
(212) 825-0028 x232 l

Vanna Resized.jpg

Vanna is a Benefits Outreach Worker for the New York City Hunger Free Communities Consortium project. Vanna began working at Hunger Free America as the AmeriCorps Client Advocate for the Benefits Access team. Now as a Benefits Outreach Worker, she pre-screens clients for food stamp eligibility and works with partner agencies in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan. Before coming to Hunger Free America, Vanna worked at Cathedral Community Cares in the AmeriCrops program and served as the Volunteer Manager.

Vanna graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor in Fine Arts. She was born and raised (and still lives) in the Bronx.

Vanna's favorite food is a fresh salad and bread!

Jim Wengler, Director of Benefits Access

(212) 825-0028 x218 l

Jim Resized.png

Jim has been with Hunger Free America since 2003, and currently serves as Director of Benefits Access.  He manages projects that help connect low-income New Yorkers with the public nutrition benefits available to them, with a particular emphasis on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Jim is a graduate of Rutgers University and has 20 years of experience in the social services field, previously working with agencies serving those affected by HIV/AIDS. He also spent a year in Nicaragua as a volunteer for an organization that served impoverished and orphaned children.

Jim's Favorite Food: Bananas and Peanut Butter! Because it's fast, healthy, and a great source of protein.

Ying Zhang, Benefits Access Associate

(212) 825-0028 x242 l

Ying Resized.jpg

Ying works on the United Way of NYC Food Support Connections Program as a member of our Benefits Access team. In this role, she prescreens clients for SNAP eligibility at several Brooklyn and Queens community-based host sites, and provides application assistance. A fluent speaker of both Mandarin and Cantonese, she is a valued asset in the Chinese communities of those boroughs. 

Prior to coming to Hunger Free America, Ying worked as a Medicaid Recertification Coordinator at Met Council, conducting home visits in all 5 boroughs to home-bound or chronically fragile elderly residents. She received her BA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Art.

Ying's favorite foods are her homemade Madelines and fresh strawberries.  "I love fruit and sweets, because when I am having a bad day, they always remind me that there are so many little happy things in life that we can enjoy and smile about."

Jess Zimmerman, Benefits Access Associate

(212) 825-0028 x245 l

Jess Z Resized.jpg

Jess Zimmerman grew up on Long Island by the Great South Bay. Graduating from college in 2001, Jess moved to Mexico to improve his Spanish skills and teach art and health education in the same remote village where his grandmother taught in the 1960's. Moving back to NYC to be closer to family, he began working at a community food pantry in Manhattan and hearing people's incredible stories of immigrating to the United States. Continuing on this path, Jess was blessed with the opportunity to work with Hunger Free NYC beginning in May 2016. He is excited to work with such a wonderful organization in an amazing global city, helping people to connect their families to greater health and future.

Jess chooses pickles as his favorite food due to his cultural roots in the Lower East Side, and because they’re a refreshing low calorie probiotic snack.