With friends from Shiloh Baptist Church of New Rochelle helping
serve breakfast at HOPE for folks from the Oasis shelter.
I want to express my appreciation – awe actually – of those in the nonprofit, political, and faith-based communities, whether paid or volunteer, who have been working nonstop to feed the growing ranks of those in need.
For example, my friends at WestCOP/New Rochelle at “95” who, in addition to taking on the responsibility for school breakfast/lunch distribution for the school district and also working with the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority, did the following last week: prepared 400 hot take-away meals, made 2,850 sandwiches and stuffed them in brown bags with a beverage and snack, and prepared 9,396 pantry grocery bags for pick up, totaling approximately 39,000 pounds of food for people in need.
On Wednesday morning, I helped my friend Khris Tahmin of Indivisible Eastchester move a half a ton of non-perishable food, toiletries and cleaning supplies – all donated by her good neighbors in the Interlaken co-ops – from her garage and apartment to the street for delivery by our National Guard to the food distribution center at ECAP in Tuckahoe. Also in Tuckahoe, Village Trustee Omayra Andino has been preparing hot meals on Friday evenings for senior tenants at 4 Union Place. I was happy to help last week, along with the community advocate and Trustee candidate, Cara Kronen.
As a member of the Grants Committee of the Giving Circle of Lower Westchester, I generally visit 3 or 4 food pantries and soup kitchens operating in and funded by local churches and community organizations each Spring to assess their needs and make recommendations to our Board on our financial support. The past two months of this year I have visited an even dozen food pantries to check in, find out about unmet needs for food or supplies, and donate masks, children’s books, and flyers with information about coronavirus measures and the census. At others I have spent a few hours as just one of many volunteers. I can’t say enough good things about all the wonderful people who work so hard to feed their neighbors, or about the great work done by Feeding Westchester, but I have also been struck by the ad hoc nature of the efforts. I’ve been volunteering at Bethesda Baptist Church and have been impressed by the fortitude of both the volunteers, who labor many hours, and the recipients, who sometimes wait for hours, through delays, distribution glitches, and a sometimes bewildering assortment of donated food that may or may not match with the nutritional needs or wants of the growing population of food insecure people.
And, being tired after the few hours that I have put in at food distribution points and also overwhelmed by the great need relative to the modest financial donations we can make, I know that a level of volunteer and donor fatigue inevitably sets in. It’s not always the youngest and wealthiest people in the world doing this work, folks! And nonprofit organizations were never meant to take on a task of the magnitude we see now, which will likely continue as some jobs disappear permanently. Volunteer efforts were meant to supplement government programs, not replace them.
Further, we want people to obtain food that is both nutritious and that they will eat, not toss away, from a grab bag of stuff they’re given. That is, we want them to shop at a local store where the grocer, like my friends at the wonderful New Rochelle Farms, can sell good, fresh food, hire local, and make a living profit as part – and a surprise to those of you who think I’m some sort of a socialist – of a normal, efficient market-driven food supply chain.
But to do that the people in the neighborhood need to have money, which the federal government can create in this time of great need, helped by very low interest rates. The money can be in hand by way of guaranteed monthly payments and/or credits to SNAP accounts (effectively, digital food stamps).
Don’t take my word on this. See the recent NY Times op-ed. I applaud our State government for putting an extra $200 Million into SNAP last month. We have to demand that our federal government step up, too. And to support this, we need not only the top 1%, but also at least the next 9%, to pay more in taxes to support what is required of us as compassionate people who care about our neighbors, which will also be a good long term investment by reducing the medical and social costs of food insecurity.