N.Y.C. Food Bank, Soup Kitchen Strained for Holidays
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand, and this is DAY TO DAY.
The nation's food banks have less on their shelves than last year. Workers believe that donations that would normally go to food banks have been made to hurricane victims instead. Our own Mike Pesca visited New York City's sole food bank, the largest in the country, to get a look at how the hungry are faring.
(Soundbite of machinery)
MIKE PESCA reporting:
The view within the sprawling warehouse belonging to the Food Bank for New York City is either awesome or awful, depending on if you focus on supply or demand. You see stacks and boxes of everything from raw grain to Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing reaching up to the ceiling. Forklifts navigate the rows of canned pears and ketchups and are slapped on the back by plastic slats separating the main floor from the massive freezer.
Twenty-eight high foot ceilings, stacks of boxes marked `corn-dusted oval bun, beef, the Chicago Meat House,' crates of meat piled high over 20 feet high in the ceiling.
You've probably never seen this much food in one place, even if the place is spread out over a hundred thousand square feet. That also means you've probably never had a chance to really think about a statistic like 40 percent of New York's households with children experience difficulty affording food this year. This is their food. Tyrone Harrysingh is the COO of the food bank. Of course, he makes clear if you see an impressive amount of food here, it just means there's a depressing demand for it out there, especially with donations down in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. TYRONE HARRYSINGH (Food Bank COO): I would say we have about four to five million pounds of food, which is low for us. Usually, we have about six to seven million pounds of food here. We have seen a significant decrease during the months of September and October of donated food, a lot of which we know was diverted to Katrina and Rita to help disaster recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region.
PESCA: This year, 67 million pounds of food will be shipped from this warehouse in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx to shelters, pantries and kitchens all over New York. Some will wind up at the city's largest soup kitchen at the Holy Apostles Church on the West Side of Manhattan, where Davis Garner(ph) gets a hot meal a few days a week. Garner, who is homeless, says without free meals, he'd never be able to follow through on his plan to save enough money to afford an apartment.
Mr. DAVIS GARNER (Homeless): It's impossible.
Mr. GARNER: It is impossible to make it. I only get $6 an hour four hours a day, so you could that up, and after they take out taxes, every two weeks, it's $215. I can't afford to eat and pay rent. I just can't.
PESCA: The food here is stereotypical cafeteria fare--beets and stews and breads--but warm and open to absolutely anyone who wants it. About 275 guests, as they're called by the staff, are in the room right now. The coordinator for the soup kitchen, Clyde Kuemmerle, says they're getting by for today.
Mr. CLYDE KUEMMERLE (Soup Kitchen Coordinator): I don't know about tomorrow, and I'm serious about that. When I see the cuts that are proposed right now from the federal government, we're going to wind up with more people on the street, without question, and we'll need to use programs like this.
PESCA: Kuemmerle says the soup kitchen is something of an economic indicator. In 2001, he knew there was going to be an economic downturn months before sluggish growth and high unemployment were confirmed by official statistics. He says the same thing's going on now, and records show that hunger has been on the rise for the last couple of years. No hunger advocate will ever tell you, `Things are great, we're getting plenty of funding.' But right now, there is fear and a sense that tougher times lay ahead. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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