Anti-Hunger Advocates React to Food Impact of NYC School and Senior Center Closings

03.16.2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                           

CONTACT:

Nicole Aber, 646-627-7741

Naber@hungerfreeamerica.org          

 

City to Provide Grab and Go Meals at Schools and Senior Centers

Advocates Praise City’s First Steps but Call for U.S. Senate To Immediately Pass Relief Bill

“Massive Increase in Pre-Existing Hunger Crisis Demands Massive, Highly-Coordinated Response by the Federal, State, and the City Governments, and Corporations, Nonprofit Groups, and Philanthropies”

 

New York City public schools serve about one million meals each normal school day, including 595,842 lunches and 265,977 breakfasts for free or reduced prices. The City’s 246 senior centers serve about 27,000 meals per day.  Before this crisis, more than one million New York City residents lived in food insecure homes, unable to afford an adequate supply of food.

In addition, many New Yorkers who previously worked for modest wages and/or depended on tips to survive have suddenly lost jobs and/or have suffered from dramatic reductions in incomes.

The City has announced that, for the next few days, all schools will provide free breakfasts and lunches for children to take home from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Senior centers will also provide such “grab and go” meals.

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a nationwide direct service and advocacy organization based in New York City, released this statement in response:

“The instantaneous loss of a million school meals and tens of thousands of senior meals each day – combined with the rapid reduction in income for numerous low-income workers – has greatly worsened the city’s pre-existing hunger crisis. This is the first time in modern U.S. history that we have seen a nationwide natural disaster combined with an economic collapse, so we can’t even begin to imagine the long-term devastation for the nation and the city, particularly for the vast number of people struggling before the latest crises.

We praise Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City for taking rapid steps to allow children to take food home from schools and older New Yorkers to take food home from senior centers. These are important first steps, but no one should complacently believe that these steps alone will solve this worsening hunger crisis. If schools and senior centers are closed specifically to prevent people from congregating in one place, then asking kids and seniors to show up at the same place to get food could reduce some of the social distancing benefits of the closures. Furthermore, for young students who have parents still working during the day, it may be more difficult or/or dangerous for the kids to travel on their own to get meals. Children with special needs and disabilities will face extra challenges. In addition, Mayor de Blasio just announced that the number of school distribution sites may be reduced in a few days.

Fortunately, the relief bill pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which passed the House of Representatives early Saturday morning, would significantly lessen the hunger crisis by not only providing more funds to make it easier for schools, senior programs, and food charities to provide alternative meals, but also and, most importantly, by creating a vast, new federally-funded program to give extra food purchasing dollars to all families with children in closed schools on ATM-like cards. The bill also includes vital paid sick leave and expanded unemployment compensation funding, which will more broadly aid struggling working families, maintaining some of their food purchasing power.  On Saturday, President Donald Trump strongly endorsed the bill. It is distressing, to say the least, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to schedule a Senate vote on the bill, reportedly because some conservative senators object to the paid sick leave provisions. The Senate should immediately pass, and the President should immediately sign, this emergency bill into law.

The massive increase in the pre-existing hunger crisis demands a massive, highly-coordinated response by federal, state, and city government agencies, as well as corporations, nonprofit groups, and philanthropies. One top priority for such joint efforts should be signing families up for the new government food benefits. The other key priority should be dramatically ramping-up the home delivery of meals to older New Yorkers, children, and families who lost income; this should be done using a combination of government and nonprofit staff, National Guard members, AmeriCorps national service participants, and community volunteers (all of whom should be given adequate safety training and equipment). The time is now for all hands on deck to jointly combat this grave threat to the city and nation. Hunger Free America stands ready to help any way we can.

Crises such as Katrina, Sandy, and the coronavirus pandemic rip the bandages off society’s most gaping wounds, forcing the nation to confront the reality of how each crisis greatly worsened the pre-existing maladies of hunger, poverty, and inequality. I hope that, after the immediate pandemic subsides, this prompts the nation to launch broader efforts to solve these long-term crises.”

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