Last spring, the economic engine of New York City slowed to a near halt and almost immediately, the lines outside food pantries and soup kitchens began to grow. Some 65% more city residents turned to these emergency food resources in 2020 than in 2019. Photos of people waiting on the modern-day equivalent of Depression-era breadlines were among the defining images of COVID-19’s first wave. Many responded by donating money or food or volunteering with organizations addressing hunger.
As vaccination rates rise and the city approaches a full reopening, hunger may no longer be top of mind for many New Yorkers. But those working in food banks and pantries say demand is still much higher than it was before the pandemic, especially among groups that were already more vulnerable.
“When it comes to the lines, we’re really working with our partners to manage those through different technology efficiencies,” said Zanita Tisdale, senior director of member engagement at Food Bank for New York City. “But the volume of families and individuals that are coming has really remained much the same as we saw during the pandemic.”
A new report from the New York State Health Foundation backs Tisdale’s observation. About 12% of adults statewide aren’t getting enough to eat from week to week. That’s down slightly from a mid-pandemic peak of approximately 14%. The survey involved about 1,500 adults and is part of the COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, a federal initiative designed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Black and Hispanic New Yorkers continue to go hungry at dramatically higher rates than their white neighbors.
But Black and Hispanic New Yorkers continue to go hungry at dramatically higher rates than their white neighbors. While some families have used their stimulus checks to cover costs, others are racking up credit card debt and borrowing money from friends.
In March 2021, the most recent month covered in the report, more than 20% of Black respondents and 29% of Hispanic New Yorkers reported that they were recently facing food insecurity, compared with just 5% of white survey takers. These disparities existed before the pandemic, driven by income inequality and by benefits programs that exclude many immigrants, says Nicholas Freudenberg, director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.
“The pandemic has illuminated the inequitable characteristics of the food system and provided an opportunity to address some of those,” Freudenberg said.
Demand At Pantries And Soup Kitchens Remains High
Food Bank for NYC distributed about 140 million pounds of food to pantries and kitchens across the city between April 2020 and March 2021, a 63% increase over the previous year. Some 40% of the 800 nonprofit partners Food Bank serves initially closed their doors during the pandemic’s first wave to avoid risking the safety of staff and volunteers, many of whom were seniors. But most of these food services have started operating again and continue to require bigger shipments than they did pre-pandemic, Tisdale says.
City Harvest, a Manhattan-based food rescue organization that delivers to some 400…