New York City is iconic. From the Empire State Building and Central Park to delicious hot dogs and Ellis Island, NYC has been the center of many movies, songs and, most importantly, the beginning of the American Dream. The Statue of Liberty is welcoming and illustrates the spirit of hope and freedom in our country. However, the COVID-19 crisis has caused havoc throughout our country, and NYC, one of the cultural epicenters of the United States, arguably has felt its greatest impact. Social media posts and videos began circulating, showing the world the increasingly long lines at food banks and soup kitchens. Basic necessities were becoming scarce during a time of need.
District 4 leadership was concerned by these images. Together, our cabinet brainstormed the best ways to help, which led us to the Food Bank for New York City (FBNYC). For over 35 years, the food bank has been the city’s leading hunger relief organization. Their mission is to strive to “end hunger by organizing food, information and support for community survival, empowerment and dignity.” Not only does FBNYC contribute to the community through meals, they also provide nutritional education at schools, host community workshops and work with the youth to empower the next generation to continue the fight against hunger. COVID-19 caused an increased need among New Yorkers, so we excitedly jumped into action to help further their efforts.
With quarantines and social distancing measures in place, District 4 turned to social media to raise funds through a virtual campaign — a virtual “BINGO board” game for members to share on their Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat stories. As donations were received, members marked off squares and continually shared their BINGO boards, bringing more awareness and donations to the cause. For every $1 donation, five meals can be provided by FBNYC. With a goal of $1,000, District 4 planned to donate 5,000 meals. Because of the generosity of our district’s members and people across 10 states, we exceeded our goal!
District 4 Trustee Christina Aponte and I, the community service chair, had a virtual meeting with Brigid Pancic, the senior manager of partnerships and campaigns, for FBNYC. As we talked with Brigid, she emphasized the growing need during our pandemic-laden world. The food bank saw a 50% increase in those seeking their resources, with 30% of those people being first-time users of the emergency food program. She estimated the food bank is seeing upwards of 2,400 New Yorkers per week.
Brigid provided us with deeper insight to the everyday operations of the food bank; in the COVID-19 world, the FBNYC is pre-packing pantry bags with staples, and they are offering “to-go” style meals. Though the organization provides nutrition education and access to healthy foods, they are “more than just food,” as Brigid says. They also assist with filing tax returns, as this can bring about finances to be put toward buying essentials at the grocery store. Because there can be shame and a stigma that comes with using a food bank, Brigid emphasized that FBNYC strives to always serve their patrons with dignity.
Even though we may not all be geographically close to New York City, the “concrete jungle” resonates with us all. If you feel further called to help FBNYC’s efforts, you can donate, write “letters of hope” that are included in the distributed pantry bags or share more about the organization on social media.
Many uncertainties plague our world, but hunger should not be one of them. Food is as essential as our health care workers and first responders on the front lines. Take the first step in your community to make an impact. Volunteer with your area food bank, give non-perishable items to your local food pantry, and be a voice for those near and far that need your help!
~Anne Marie Currie , Tennessee ’22