FIGHTING FOOD INSECURITY ON LONG ISLAND

The coronavirus pandemic has put many families in financial peril. As a result, more and more people are struggling with food insecurity. Across the region, food banks and food pantries have seen a surge in demand. To help to meet that demand, the New York agriculture department has been partnering with local food relief organizations to deliver fresh produce to those in need. As part of our Chasing The Dream initiative on poverty, justice, and economic opportunity in America- Randi Shubin Dresner, President and CEO of Island Harvest food bank- the largest food relief organization in Long Island and New York State Commissioner Of Agriculture, Richard Ball join us tonight to discuss the challenges of combating food insecurity amid the pandemic.

Aired on November 18, 2020.

 

CtD-Logo2


Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

TRANSCRIPT

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M GENJENNA FLANAGAN.

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC HAS PUT MANY FAMILIES INTO FINANCIAL PERIL.

AS A RESULT MORE AND MORE PEOPLE FIND THEMSELVES STRUGGLING WITH FOOD INSECURITY.

ACROSS OUR REGION FOOD BANKS AND FOOD PANTRIES HAVE SEEN A SURGE IN DEMAND.

SO TO HELP MEET THAT DEMAND THE NEW YORK AGRICULTURAL DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN PARTNERING WITH LOCAL FOOD RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS TO DELIVER FRESH PRODUCE TO THOSE WHO FIND THEMSELVES IN NEED.

SO JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT THAT PARTNERSHIP AS WELL AS THE CHALLENGES OF COMBATING FOOD INSECURITY AMID THE PANDEMIC IS RANDI SHUBIN RESNER, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE ISLAND HARVEST FOOD BANK, THE LARGEST FOOD ORGANIZATION ON LONG ISLAND.

RANDI, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

AND WE'RE ALSO JOINED BY NEW YORK STATE COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE RICHARD BALL.

RICHARD, WELCOME.

GREAT TO BE WITH YOU, JENNA.

THEY BOTH JOIN ME AS PART OF OUR 'CHASING THE DREAM' INITIATIVE ON POVERTY, JUSTICE, AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA.

SO RANDI, I'D LIKE TO START WITH YOU AND JUST HAVE YOU TELL US JUST SORT OF A BRIEF SYNOPSIS ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION AND MORE IMPORTANTLY THE NUMBER OF FAMILIES THAT FIND THEMSELVES IN NEED OF YOUR SERVICE.

SO A FOOD BANK ON LONG ISLAND HELPING IN NORMAL TIMES NOT DURING A PANDEMIC ABOUT 300,000 FAMILIES EACH YEAR.

SO IN A COMMUNITY THAT IS COMMONLY KNOWN AS HAVING SOME OF THE WEALTHIEST ZIP CODES IN THE COUNTRY, ABOUT 1 IN 10 LONG ISLANDERS ARE STRUGGLING WITH HUNGER.

AND WHAT WE USED TO SAY WAS THERE WERE POCKETS OF POVERTY ACROSS LONG ISLAND.

NOW WE OFTEN SAY THAT THERE ARE POCKETS OF WEALTH BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH NEED ACROSS LONG ISLAND.

IN RECENT MONTHS, SINCE MARCH, WE OPENED UP OUR EMERGENCY RESOURCE CENTER, AND IN JUST THE PAST SEVEN MONTHS WE HAVE HELPED MORE THAN 400,000 FAMILIES.

THE INCREASE HAS BEEN QUITE DRAMATIC.

WE HAVE PARTICIPATED IN AND HOSTED ABOUT 1,000 FOOD DISTRIBUTION EVENTS IN JUST THESE PAST FEW MONTHS.

AND ARE REALLY DOING WHAT WE CAN TO MEET THE NEEDS OF SO MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE STRUGGLING HERE ON LONG ISLAND.

I COULD GO ON AND ON WITH STORIES OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE COME TO THE FOOD BANK FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME.

OF COURSE.

OF COURSE.

AND SO RICHARD, THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO BRING YOU INTO THE CONVERSATION.

AND ASK HOW IS IT THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE HAS STEPPED IN TO HELP PROVIDE FOOD TO THOSE WHO NEED IT?

WELL, THANKS.

THANKS FOR THAT QUESTION.

IT'S GREAT TO BE WITH YOU BOTH.

WE'RE FORTUNATE THAT WE ALREADY HAD GOOD RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE EMERGENCY FOOD SYSTEM AND THE PANTRY SYSTEM IN NEW YORK STATE.

I GET TO CHAIR FOR THE GOVERNOR THE COUNCIL ON HUNGER AND FOOD POLICY.

WHERE WE HAVE NEW YORK FARMERS, WHERE WE HAVE CORNELL, WHERE WE HAVE THE STATE AGENCIES THAT DEAL IN HUNGER AND FOOD ISSUES.

AND WHERE WE HAVE OUR FOOD BANKS AND PANTRY SYSTEM AS WELL.

RANDI HAS BEEN A GREAT ASSET ON THE HUNGER AND FOOD POLICY COUNCIL.

SO AS WE HEADED INTO THIS PANDEMIC, WE HAD A HEAD START BECAUSE WE HAD RELATIONSHIPS WITH ALL 10 OF OUR FOOD BANKS ACROSS THE STATE.

WE OBVIOUSLY AT AGRICULTURE KNOW WHERE THE FOOD IS.

I WANT TO POINT OUT, THERE WAS NEVER A FOOD SUPPLY ISSUE.

WE HAD PLENTY OF FOOD.

THE CHALLENGE WAS IT WAS IN ONE PLACE AND THE NEED BECAME IN A DIFFERENT PLACE.

MORE THAN HALF OF THE FOOD THAT WE PRODUCED IN NEW YORK TYPICALLY GOES THROUGH THE FOOD SERVICE SYSTEM.

RESTAURANTS, INSTITUTIONS, AND SCHOOLS.

AND SUDDENLY THAT VALVE WAS SHUT OFF.

AND SO WHEN COVID-19 HIT US IT REALLY HURT BOTH ENDS OF OUR FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN.

FARMERS ON ONE END WHO LOST HALF THEIR MARKET, CONSUMERS ON THE OTHER END WHO REALLY NEEDED THE HELP FINDING FOOD.

AND THAT'S WHERE RANDI AND HER ORGANIZATION CAME IN IN A BIG WAY.

WELL, JUST TO SORT OF BUILD ON THAT, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE NOURISH NEW YORK INITIATIVE AND IF THERE'S ANY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS THAT YOU'VE ALSO PARTNERED WITH?

WE'VE PARTNERED WITH A LOT OF FOLKS.

BELIEVE ME.

WE WERE ABLE TO TO -- ONCE EARLY ON IN THE PANDEMIC GROCERY STORES WERE MOBBED.

THERE WAS HOARDING GOING ON.

AND THERE WAS A TREMENDOUS DEMAND, FOR EXAMPLE, ON MILK.

BUT JUST A COUPLE WEEKS INTO THE PANDEMIC AND SUDDENLY WE HAD A SITUATION WHERE SUPPLY WAREHOUSES WERE FULL, DAIRY PROCESSING FACILITIES COULDN'T HANDLE ANYMORE.

WE HAD FARMERS ACTUALLY DUMPING MILK ON THEIR FARMS BECAUSE THEY HAD NOWHERE TO GO WITH IT.

AT THE SAME TIME WE HAD A TREMENDOUS NEED.

WHEN THE GOVERNOR HEARD ABOUT THAT, HE WAS ABLE TO IDENTIFY FOR US SOME FUNDING AND EMERGENCY HELP FOOD DOLLARS.

$25 MILLION TO BE EXACT.

WE WERE ABLE TO WITHIN ONE WEEK SET UP CONTRACTS AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH ALL TEN FOOD BANKS, PRORATE THAT FUNDING.

I REMEMBER THIS STARTED ON A SUNDAY.

THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY WE HAD THE PROGRAM PUT TOGETHER.

AND TWO DAYS LATER I WAS ON LONG ISLAND WITH RANDI AND WE WERE DISTRIBUTING FOOD TO PEOPLE WHO NEEDED IT.

WE HAD TRAILER LOADS OF MILK, CHEESE, YOGURT, APPLES, POTATOES, SOME MEAT PRODUCTS, EGGS, AND IT WAS OVERWHELMING FROM AN EMOTIONAL STANDPOINT.

WELL, THAT DISTRIBUTION WAS OUR FIRST LARGEST LARGE DISTRIBUTION, LARGE SCALE.

SO ON THAT DAY WE SUPPORTED OVER 3,800 FAMILIES.

SO PEOPLE OFTEN SEE THE LINE SNAKED AROUND FOOD BANKS.

THAT WAS HAPPENING HERE ON LONG ISLAND AND ACROSS NEW YORK STATE AS WELL.

AND WE WERE FORTUNATE BECAUSE OF THE SUPPORT OF COMMISSIONER OF THE GOVERNOR THROUGH NOURISH NEW YORK BECAUSE IT REALLY OPENED UP ALL CHANNELS FOR US AND REALLY CHANGED EVERYTHING.

WELL, IT'S INTERESTING THAT YOU TALK ABOUT, YOU KNOW, NOT ONLY I BELIEVE YOU SAID 30,000 FAMILIES IN THOSE LONG LINES --

3,800 FAMILIES.

3,800.

EXCUSE ME.

BUT THE LONG LINES THAT WE'VE SEEN ON THE NEWS OF JUST SNAKING AROUND BUILDINGS, ET CETERA, CAN YOU JUST TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE LOGISTICS OF DELIVERING FOOD TO THAT MANY PEOPLE?

BECAUSE AS I -- STUFF WOULD HAVE TO BE PORTIONED OUT AND IF IT NEEDS TO BE PROPERLY REFRIGERATED OR SOMETHING.

I MEAN, THERE'S GOT TO BE A SYSTEM THAT HAS TO BE SET UP IN PLACE FIRST TO EVEN BE ABLE TO DO THAT PROPERLY.

YOU KNOW, JENNA, YOU'RE RIGHT.

THANK YOU FOR ASKING THE QUESTION THAT WAY.

SO FOOD BANKS ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF ZRIBLTING FOOD FAIRLY QUICKLY.

HARVEST STARTED WHAT'S CALLED A FOOD RESCUE ORGANIZATION.

SO OUR MODEL IS BASED OFF PICKING UP FOOD AND IMMEDIATELY DISTRIBUTING THEM AND DOING IT SAFELY, WHETHER IT'S PERISHABLE PRODUCTS OR NON-PERISHABLE PRODUCT.

BUT IN THIS CASE TO DISTRIBUTE TO NEARLY 4,000 FAMILIES TAKES A LOT OF PLANNING AND PREPARATION.

AND SO WE WERE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE COMMISSIONER'S OFFICE, WITH THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE.

WE WORKED WITH THE LOCAL COUNTIES, WITH THE OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, WITH THE LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENT.

BECAUSE IMAGINE WHEN WE'RE SUPPORTING 3,800 FAMILIES, NEARLY 4,000, THE MAJORITY OF THEM ARE COMING VIA CAR AND THERE ARE ALSO ALWAYS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF PEOPLE THAT COME BY FOOT WITH PUSH CARTS TO TAKE THE FOOD.

AND SO WE NEEDED TO BE ABLE TO PLAN FOR BOTH.

WE HAD OVER 200 VOLUNTEERS ON SITE AT THAT PARTICULAR DISTRIBUTION.

AND WE'VE DONE THAT NOW THREE OTHER TIMES.

ON A LARGE SCALE.

BUT MOST OF OUR FOOD DISTRIBUTIONS ARE BETWEEN 100 PEOPLE AND ABOUT 1,000 TO 2,000 PEOPLE.

SO IT'S A BIG EFFORT.

AND WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE FOOD TEMPERATURES, A LOT OF THAT WAS HAPPENING DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS.

AND NOR SOMFOR SOME REASON EVERF OUR EVENTS HAPPENED ON THE HOTTEST DAYS OF THE SUMMER.

SO WE BROUGHT OUT ALL OF OUR REFRIGERATED TRUCKS, OUR TRACTOR-TRAILER.

WE HAD A WHOLE SYSTEM OF HOW WE WOULD OFF-LOAD PRODUCTS AND HOW MUCH TIME IT WOULD BE OUT BEFORE IT WAS DISTRIBUTED.

AND SO IN THOSE -- ON THOSE DAYS WE NEEDED MORE VOLUNTEERS SO WE COULD TIME AND TASTE ALL OF THE PRODUCT.

PLUS YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER WE'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC, OF A VIRUS WHERE IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS LITTLE KNOWN ABOUT THE TRANSMISSION, AND SO WE STEPPED UP THE SAFETY PROTOCOLS TO MAKE SURE THAT WE WERE REALLY LOOKING OUT FOR OUR VOLUNTEERS, FOR OUR STAFF AND OF COURSE ALL THE PEOPLE COMING IN FOR HELP.

SO THAT ADDED ANOTHER LAYER ON TOP OF EVERYTHING.

SO IN ADDITION TO THE BOX OF PRODUCE THAT WE WERE DISTRIBUTING, THE BOX OF PERISHABLE PRODUCT, WHICH WAS MEAT AND DAIRY, WE ALSO DISTRIBUTED PPE TO EVERYBODY AT EVERY ONE OF OUR DISTRIBUTION EVENTS.

CONTINUING THROUGH TODAY.

AND THAT SEEMS LIKE THAT WOULD BE AS IMPORTANT -- AT LEAST DURING THE PANDEMIC AS THE FOOD.

BUT I DO WANT TO ASK YOU TO BUILD JUST A LITTLE ON -- BECAUSE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE IN THE SUMMER AND ALL OF THE FAMILIES YOU WERE SERVICING.

BUT HERE WE ARE IN THE HOLIDAY SEASON.

AND OF COURSE THIS TENDS TO BE A TIME WHEN WE ARE CONDITIONS TO THINK ABOUT THE LESS FORTUNATE AND PEOPLE WHO ARE IN NEED.

ARE YOU SEEING AN EVEN BIGGER INCREASE?

OR WHAT'S HAPPENING AT LEAST WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION?

SO WE KNOW THAT THERE'S AN INCREASE IN THE NEED IN OUR COMMUNITY.

WE HAVE PEOPLE CALLING AND COMING TO OUR DISTRIBUTION POINTS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN ON A FOOD LINE BEFORE.

SO WE'VE HAD PEOPLE FROM WALL STREET.

WE'VE HAD PHYSICIANS ON LINE.

WE'VE HAD PEOPLE WHO WORK IN THE HOTEL INDUSTRY AND LANDSCAPING INDUSTRY.

AND EVERYBODY IN BETWEEN.

ONE OF OUR COMMON PHRASES THAT WE SAY TO VOLUNTEERS AT OUR DISTRIBUTION EVENTS IS TODAY WE ARE GOING TO SEE JAGUARS, MERCEDES AND BMWs LINING UP RIGHT NEXT TO THE FORDS, CHEVIES, AND MAZDAS.

BUT WE TREAT EVERYBODY WITH RESPECT BECAUSE WE DON'T KNOW, OTHER THAN THEM BEING IMPACTED BY COVID, WE DON'T KNOW WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON IN THEIR LIVES AND WE WOULD EXPECT THE SAME IF WE WERE ON LINE.

AND PEOPLE LAUGH WHENEVER WE SAY THAT UNTIL THE CARS START COMING ONTO THE LINE.

AND IT'S THE TRUTH ABOUT ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE WHO ARE COMING.

SO THE NEED IS INCREASED, WHICH MEANS THAT THE FOOD AND THE SUPPORT NEEDS TO INCREASE SO WE CAN SUPPORT EVERYBODY WHO'S COMING TO US FOR HELP.

PROGRAMS LIKE NOURISH NEW YORK WAS ONE OF THOSE VERY IMPORTANT PROGRAMS WHICH HELPED TO FILL IN THE GAPS AND BEYOND BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY ENABLED US TO ADD MANY DISTRIBUTION EVENTS THAT WE WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE TO PEOPLE.

WELL, RANDI, WE'VE ONLY GOT ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT.

SO I DO WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT I ASK YOU, FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE IN A POSITION WHERE THEY'RE SEEING THE STORY AND THEY'RE SAYING THAT'S SOMETHING THAT I WANT TO SUPPORT, THAT'S SOMETHING I WANT TO HELP, WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DO THAT?

WE WOULD ENCOURAGE YOU TO CHECK OUT OUR WEBSITE, ISLANDHARVEST.ORG.

OR IF YOU DON'T LIVE ON LONG ISLAND, THE FOOD BANK ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK IS CALLED FEEDING NEW YORK STATE.

AND THERE'S A LISTING OF ALL OF THE FOOD BANKS ACROSS THE STATE.

FOOD BANKS NEED HELP WITH FUNDS, FOOD, AND WITH PEOPLE ROLLING UP THEIR SLEEVES AND GETTING INVOLVED AND VOLUNTEERING.

WELL, LISTEN, I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THE TIME NOW TO THANK NEW YORK STATE COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE RICHARD BALL AND OF COURSE HE RANDY SHUBIN DRESSNER, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF ISLAND HARVEST FOOD BANK, THE LARGEST FOOD ORGANIZATION ON LONG ISLAND.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US AND REMINDING US ABOUT THIS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT NEED THAT I'M SURE UNFORTUNATELY WE'LL AF CONTINUE TO SEE INTO 2021.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

ABSOLUTELY.

YOU GOT IT.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019