Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors Program Fights Hunger During COVID
Hunger has gripped many during the pandemic. We’ve seen lines around the block to get into the supermarkets. In those markets there have been many empty shelves. In some places, there are miles-long lines of cars waiting for a chance at getting food to feed their families. Food insecurity has been one of the most devasting effects of living through Coronavirus.
If the crisis is incredible in scope, the response has been equally incredible – Catholic Charities Community Services of New York (CCCS) recently distributed its 500,000th meal during the pandemic.
GREATER NEED, GREATER RESPONSE
Under normal circumstances, CCCS receives and dispenses approximately 60,000 pounds of food every month. Since the pandemic, need has grown so much that they are now receiving and dispensing 100,000 pounds of food a month. Food comes to CCCS through its many partners; donors like Fresh Direct, the City of New York, City Harvest, Goya, the USDA, farmers markets, school collections, and City and State resources. In the uncommon cases where immediate need outpaces donations, CCCS will also purchase food from partners like Ace Endico and Driscoll foods.
INVENTING NEW WAYS TO MEET NEW LEVELS OF NEED
Prior to the pandemic food delivery was done quite differently. Food pantries in the Archdiocese were set up more like a market where people could come and “shop” for their specific needs. Of course, people congregating in the enclosed spaces of a physical pantry isn’t safe anymore. The new model that Feed Our Neighbors developed centered around preparing balanced food parcels and making them available for pickup and delivery. Practically a top-to-bottom reinvention of how things get done.
The operation to bring all of this food to the people who need it is also quite amazing. Food donations come to a central hub. From there, food is distributed to packing centers staffed mainly by local residents, volunteers and some CCNY staff who put together the parcels of food – a balanced collection that includes dairy, protein, vegetables and fruit. Those parcels were then loaded onto and off of trucks and delivered to pantries and kitchens within the Archdiocese. A vast operation.
But the deeper we all got into the pandemic, the more calls for food went out. Parishes, community centers, schools, consulates, civic leaders, all began requesting additional, sorely-needed assistance. So, the operation grew more and changed again to add pop-up pantries and a new system for making requests for food, to keep things organized.
ADDING POP-UP PANTRIES
Pop-up pantries began appearing all over the Archdiocese, bringing with them hundreds of bags of food. On one particularly busy day, Feed Our Neighbors had a pop-up in Ossining and another in Peekskill, each serving 500 bags of food. The operation became enormous. And it remains that way even today, because the need also remains.
TAKING A LONG VIEW
In the tradition of ‘teaching people to fish’ (because bags of food are, alone, unsustainable over time) the pop-ups and pantries began helping people apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). When Mayor de Blasio appointed his food czar to coordinate the growing need in NYC, there was even more support for SNAP. The other step Feed Our Neighbors took to address the sustainability of the needs of the Archdiocese was to insert reminders into every bag of food to participate in the 2020 Census, because an accurate count leads to more balanced resources.
What Feed Our Neighbors is doing is no less than incredible. The mission, the organization and the dedication are inspiring. And like all great charitable works, this mission is only possible because of the outstanding cooperation between donors, staff, volunteers and you. Thank you.