CB7 Committee Tackles ‘Food Insecurity’

West Side Campaign Against Hunger staff unloading. 

By Anna Mejorada

Twenty-five percent of Community Board (CB) 7 residents are “food insecure,” according to the “Meal Gap,” New York City’s official measure of food insecurity. It represents meals missing from an adequate, nutritious diet.

“Food insecurity,” according to the  Department of Agriculture (USDA), is the “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

Reducing food insecurity was the topic of CB7’s Health & Human Services Committee meeting in April. Members gathered over Zoom to discuss the latest data, as well as lessons learned during the pandemic about how to address food insecurity. The committee plans to submit a resolution allocating funds to address food insecurity, and prepare the community for the next large-scale state of emergency.

Dr. Sara Abiola, Executive Director of the Food, Education & Policy Program in Nutrition at Columbia University, was a guest speaker. In collaboration with the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, Dr. Abiola helped formulate New York Food 2025 — specific policy measures the New York City mayor and City Council should consider to create a stronger, healthier, more just, and sustainable food system in New York City.

As part of the pandemic response, NYC launched several programs and devoted millions of dollars to address food insecurity, but those programs, including GetFood and P-FRED (Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution Program) were designed to be short-term emergency relief programs. 

Dr. Abiola emphasized the need to strengthen and connect food assistance programs throughout the city into a coordinated agency focused on food security promotion. This includes maximizing enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – the nation’s largest food security and poverty reduction program — and the establishment of a user-friendly, city-wide system measuring and monitoring food insecurity in each neighborhood.

“Cultural inclusivity” for people accessing food is an integral component of food security, Dr. Abiola stressed. Dietary restrictions related to cultural or religious beliefs have significantly hindered programs in the past when appropriate options are not available.

WSCAH staff.

Greg Silverman, Executive Director and CEO of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH) also spoke about food insecurity, with an emphasis on the need for convenience and choice in how food is delivered to individuals.

Currently, WSCAH offers pickup from their outpost at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church on 86th Street and West End Avenue, where they serve thousands of customers from across the city each week. The organization pioneered the supermarket-style distribution model focused on choice and offers customers an array of healthy options, including fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.

During the height of the pandemic, when many were hesitant to be in public, WSCAH saw a decline in senior citizen customers. However, they saw a significant increase in the number of customers overall and still are seeing numbers higher today than those served pre-pandemic. In a time of great need, WSCAH was able to partner with other organizations, such as United Way and DoorDash, to deliver groceries to those who could not come to the physical location, but that is not a sustainable approach to address the needs of the city.

At this time, while things are relatively stable, Silverman stressed the urgency to develop and implement a sustainable workforce devoted to serving the needs of individuals experiencing food insecurity through technology. “In an area where those with means can have groceries delivered in under 15 minutes, there should be a more straightforward way to get food to everyone in need,” Silverman said.

In addition to food, WSCAH helps their customers register for existing programs including SNAP and housing vouchers, and the organization recently rented a warehouse in a former USPS building in Washington Heights where they plan to serve their network of partners across the city.

The committee was unanimous in its decision to devote support towards New York Food 2025 and WSCAH, and “plan to get into the nitty-gritty numbers of what is needed,” per board member Shelly Fine, “to inform the budget in their official proposal for the Mayor.”

FOOD, NEWS | 15 comments | permalink
    1. Enrique Mejorada says:

      Food insecurity is a serious problem. Food needs to be affordable, nutritious, clean, and delivered timely and reliably. A portion of local taxes could be allocated to combat food insecurity. Global warming, in a few years, may exacerbate food insecurity across society. Food insecurity is a societal challenge that must be resolved not only in the United States but globally as well.

    2. Steven Barall says:

      I volunteer in a food bank and we are finding that inflation in food prices is making it more and more difficult to purchase the necessary amounts of food needed to distribute to the community. This is a big problem. The only solution is larger grants and donations. To the most vulnerable, the effects of problems like inflation are multiplied and seemingly intractable.

    3. Otis says:

      It seems that almost every street corner on the UWS has a fruit and vegetable stand selling inexpensive produce.

      I don’t see how there’s a shortage of affordable healthy food.

      These activists are confusing lack of availability of healthy food with lack of demand for healthy food.

      • good humor says:

        we went from starvation, to malnutrition, to culturally inclusive meal insecurity.

        Thank you taxpayers.

      • Pete says:

        It’s not free. People want free food.

      • Irene Hecht says:

        Otis, you are correct that there are many, many fruit vegetable stands on the UWS. There are also many food trucks.

        Unfortunately, none of them accept SNAP/EBT for payment. One must pay with CASH!! Many people who are food insecure don’t have the extra cash available. Thus, they are excluded from these sources of food.

    4. John says:

      If 25 percent of upper west side is poor who is buying all these apartments? And don’t forget the 3000 a month or more rent. I doubt the 25 percent number is correct would have to guess it’s more like 10 percent.

      • I live across the street says:

        Judging from the number of people who pull up in late model cars and SUVs to load up at the WSCAH location on West End and 86, it’s a good guess that they’re counting lots of non-local and non-poor people in their number.
        WSCAH does not means test recipients so its guesstimates should be taken with a grain of salt.

        • Surprised UWS resident says:

          Food insecurity is the difficulty in putting nutritious food on the table on a regular basis. It’s entirely possible to lease or own a nicer car and still face temporary hardship such as job loss. You’re making some very big assumptions based on very little information.

        • Close reader says:

          The 25% number is coming from Community Board 7, not the local food pantry.

      • Brandon says:

        Have you really never before encountered the idea that tremendous wealth can exist alongside deep and pervasive poverty in a global city like New York?

    5. charles says:

      I doubt there is much food insecurity on the UWS. A single person receives220/month in food
      stamps (snap benefits) That is $7/day I am single and don’t spend that much. My diet is well balanced with proteins, vegetables and fruit.

    6. david says:

      I doubt there is much food insecurity on the UWS. For a single adult food stamps (snap benefits) are $220/month or $7 per day. I am
      single, have a healthy diet of protein, vegetable and fruit, and spend less than that amount.

      • Brandon says:

        So because food insecurity isn’t a problem for you, it must not be a problem for anyone else?

        That’s fairly self-centered, don’t you think, David? Or is it Charles? You posted the same message under two different names, so I don’t know which to use.

    7. CaliGirlinNYC says:

      Who are these people saying there is no food insecurity on the UWS? How many homeless people have you all stepped over on 72 street? Wake up.