Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Hunger, Less Food

From the Times:
On a recent weekday at the BedStuy Campaign Against Hunger, one of Brooklyn’s largest food pantries, shelves that are usually piled high with staples like rice and canned meats were empty, a stark illustration of the crisis facing emergency food providers across the city.

The Brooklyn organization is among about 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens supplied by the Food Bank for New York City, the largest distributor of free food in the city, whose mission has been crippled by what officials describe as its worst food shortage in years.

At its sprawling warehouse in Hunts Point, in the Bronx, the Food Bank is storing about half what it housed in recent years. Instead of distributing 5.5 million pounds of food a month to food banks and soup kitchens, the Food Bank now offers 3 million pounds. So rather than having 10 trucks on the road at any given time, there are now only 3 or 4.

“It’s the first time in a few years that I could walk into the warehouse and see empty shelves,” said Lucy Cabrera, the president and chief executive of the Food Bank, which helps feed about 1.3 million people a year.

Officials at the Food Bank say the bare shelves stem from a steady decline in federal emergency food aid, though a farm bill stalled in the United States Senate could increase that aid.

According to a study to be released today by the Food Bank and Cornell University, New York City receives a little more than half the amount of emergency food annually from the federal government that it did three years ago. The shortfall is occurring as the number of families and individuals relying on soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City has risen to 1.3 million from 1 million since 2004.

As a result, food pantry workers say, people in need are getting fewer provisions and less variety, and some pantries have been forced to open less frequently. And the demand for emergency food will most likely rise as families spend more of their incomes on school and holiday expenses, Food Bank officials said.

Rethea Bruno, 63, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant and is a regular at several local food pantries, described the supply she found at the Campaign Against Hunger pantry as “pitiful.” “You’re getting less food,” she said. “You get the bags home and you’re stunned.”

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