Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending Food Bank for New York City’s Conference on Hunger and Poverty. It was an all-day event featuring speakers, workshops and networking with hundreds of attendees (in spite of the heavy snowfall!) representing food pantries and social service agencies from around the city. Several Episcopal Charities partner programs were there too. I saw representatives from Crossroads Community Services, Cathedral Community Cares, West Side Campaign Against Hunger and the New York Common Pantry. If you were there and I missed you, please give a shout-out on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the event.
Food Bank for New York City is one of the nation’s largest food banks, providing food for hundreds of pantries and kitchens throughout New York, as well as networking with these feeding programs, giving them resources and support, and advocating for the needs of hungry New Yorkers. This year’s conference, “Feed the Need,” focused on the increasing food insecurity in New York City and how we can change that by offering more food at pantries and kitchens, more help registering people for government food benefits and more involvement in advocacy for policy-level change.
Recent surveys by Food Bank for NYC indicate that only 53% of the clients they reach through their network are receiving government benefits. Much of the remaining 47% would qualify for benefits and just need to be connected with the right resources to obtain them. Thus, food pantries and soup kitchens can play an important role in assisting clients with this process. I know that dozens of our partner programs already do this, either by referring people to food stamp registration sites or hosting the registration themselves. Bravo. Margarette Purvis, President of Food Bank for NYC, also shared that only a fifth of all pantries and soup kitchens in their network participate in advocacy for policy-level change. We can do better! Purvis committed her organization to working towards these goals, but she also called upon everyone present to leverage their resources and their time to fight hunger through these avenues.
In addition to hearing this encouraging message from the Food Bank president, I also sat in on two educational workshops. The first was called “Flip Your Pantry” and it gave participants a walk-through for how to convert a bag or box pantry into a “client-choice” pantry. I learned that client choice is a more efficient system, offering guests autonomy and preventing food waste. I also learned that it’s easy to make the switch—as many Episcopal Charities partner programs already know (including the Caring Hands Food Pantry in Monticello, St. Mary’s Food Pantry in Harlem, the Jayne Brooks Food Pantry in Rhinebeck and four others). You can find the resources from this workshop HERE. We hope you’ll make use of them. The other session I attended was called “Communications Bootcamp” and I’m excited to share the lessons I learned there at our own upcoming Sustainability Institute workshop on social media and storytelling
I was reminded of the diverse needs in our communities during the conference lunch when I found myself at a table with representatives from four different boroughs, and organizations big and small. As Episcopal Charities partners, it’s clear that your efforts to serve New Yorkers in need are connected to an extensive movement of committed individuals and programs. Thank you for all that you do to feed the hungry in our Diocese. If you didn’t make it to the conference this year, think about attending next time around. You’re sure to learn a lot.