It's a crisis within a crisis.
Some New Yorkers left jobless because of the pandemic are unable to afford food, and that has led to a surge in demand at food banks and food pantries that is expected to continue long after the pandemic is under control.
When the Bowery Mission opens its red doors for breakfast and lunch every day, it’s an uplifting moment for scores of struggling New Yorkers.
"Some line up 30 minutes early for what is their only meal of the day. There are a lot of people in our community who have been out of work for a long period of time,” says James Winans, the CEO and president of The Bowery Mission.
The Bowery Mission has been feeding hungry New Yorkers since the 1870s and is now headed by Winans, who began as a volunteer in 1999.
Winans said, at the start of the pandemic, the Mission served 500 meals a day, twice as many as normal. Those numbers have come down, but Winans says many New Yorkers who began receiving food assistance during the pandemic will continue to need food aid after the COVID-19 crisis eases.
“The folks that we’re serving are often the first ones let go in the restaurant industry, catering, the hotels, and construction,” said Winans. “They’re going to be the last ones hired back.”
David Greenfield heads the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, which calls itself America’s largest Jewish charity dedicated to serving the needy. “One-Hundred-and-one food pantries rely on us to give them the bulk of food so they can operate,” said Greenfield. “We don’t charge for that. That’s absolutely free.”
To help feed more New Yorkers during the pandemic, the Council expanded its reach beyond the Jewish community, shipping nearly 15 million pounds of kosher food last year, up almost threefold from five million pounds in 2019. Greenfield said it's his experience that people generally prioritize paying for rent and health care over food.
"With thousands of businesses closed, and so many tenants behind on rent, he says it could take years before many New Yorkers will no longer need the food assistance they rely on now.
"The myth is that once we get everybody vaccinated, everything’s going to go back to normal,” Greenfield said. “That’s not true. That’s impossible. We’re talking about a situation where last year there were 1.2 million New Yorkers who were food insecure, and this year, there are two million New Yorkers who are food insecure."