With the rate of food insecurity surging in New York due to the effects of the pandemic, City Harvest, New York City's first and largest food rescue organization, has doubled-down on rescuing and delivering food to those in need.
And with Hunger Action Month taking place this September, the organization is ramping up its efforts to make fellow New Yorkers aware of the issue.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the volunteer-driven organization has rescued more than 55 million pounds of food and delivered packages to hundreds of community-based programs.
This year alone, City Harvest plans to rescue a record-breaking 109 million pounds of food for disenfranchised New Yorkers.
Different type of crisis
"We weren't prepared for this. The first disaster I worked on was Superstorm Sandy, but the COVID-19 crisis is completely different. It's not just specific areas that are hardest hit, it's everywhere," Keith Carr, policy and government relations manager at City Harvest, said.
"With a hurricane, you know the shoreline areas will be hit, but once the water recedes and the communities rebuild the community snaps back to normal. But with this crisis, the areas that were hardest hit with the illness were also the most disenfranchised."
During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, City Harvest staff worked around the clock to regroup and adjust to the new normal. Safety protocols were heightened for the protection of staff, and food distribution trucks stayed on the road 24-hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the entire crisis.
"Since COVID-19 hit, everything was essentially full speed ahead. It's all about getting food into the hands of the people that really need it," Carr said.
"Once the crisis hit, about ninety of our citywide food pantries closed down. And about thirty of those were in Brooklyn, so there was even more of a need."
Food insecurity existed before COVID-19
New York City was already in a food security crisis before COVID-19 hit, but by April as many as one-third of the community-based food programs City Harvest served closed their doors due to large amounts of at-risk senior volunteers. With the help of elected officials and local organizations, City Harvest was able to open up more than thirty emergency food distribution centers.
As Hunger Action Month continues, a nationwide movement on behalf of Feeding America, the group is doubling down on recent efforts. With the recent release of a comprehensive food insecurity report, City Harvest has highlighted the last six months of food insecurity amid COVID-19. The organization's reporting sheds light on the hard truth that even as the nation walks an uncertain path together, the fragility of our food system is exposed with every passing day.
"Every month is Hunger Action Month, but it is great to have a nationwide campaign to have people attune to what they should do to take action against hunger," Carr said.
"Hopefully, the contributions to City Harvest and those that do this work will increase because we can't do this work without funding."
And as New York continues to reopen, with the latest announcement being the return of indoor dining, the after-effects of COVID-19 and the looming possibility of another wave has ingrained itself into the city landscape. Unemployment rates remain hight and so does the need for nutritious free food distributed from pantries and mobile markets.
"The crisis just shows that if the people at the grocery store get sick, how does that affect the food chain. If the people at the distribution centers get sick how does that affect people," Carr says. "It's a tsunami and everybody is underwater."
New Yorkers can support City Harvest during Hunger Action Month by visiting cityharvest.org/hungeractionmonth