by Gary Bagley
As Thanksgiving approaches, many will soon look for volunteer opportunities at food pantries and soup kitchens. Most will be disappointed by what appears to be a shortage of ways to do so. In truth, opportunities are numerous – last year, New York Cares volunteers served and delivered over 10,000 meals during the week of Thanksgiving. Those volunteer opportunities are among the most popular and fill up long before many of us think “Thanksgiving. Gratitude. Volunteer.”
Hunger, however, is a year-round problem that extends well beyond the holidays and impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. And, thousands of people volunteer year round to provide meals and other services to those in need of services.
In its 2014 report, “The Unkindest Cuts: 2014 Hunger Report,” the New York City Coalition against Hunger shared several alarming facts:
- Over 1.4 million New Yorkers did not have enough to eat last year.
- One out of four children do not have enough to eat.
- Cuts in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, have led to increasing demand on food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City.
According to the American Psychological Association, children who do not receive proper nourishment are significantly more likely to need to repeat a grade in school, require mental health counseling, get into fights, or have trouble with a teacher. Hunger also takes a significant economic toll. In the Center for American Progress report, Hunger in America, Shepard, Setren & Cooper estimate that hunger’s negative impact on health, productivity, and educational outcomes cost the United States $167.5 billion, and New York State $9.3 billion, in 2010.
While the negative consequences of hunger on low-income populations are numerous, so too are the ways in which New Yorkers can alleviate the short and long term effects of this issue. And, most of the options happen, not on Thanksgiving, but on the other 364 days each year. I hope that if you are unable to volunteer this Thanksgiving, you will consider:
- Helping the unemployed with résumé writing and interviewing skills. Nearly a quarter of food bank clients come from households in which nobody is employed but somebody is actively looking for work, according to a recent report by Feeding America.
- Supporting a New York City community garden or farm, many of which strive to grow and deliver affordable fresh produce to nearby low-income neighborhoods.
- Volunteering in nutrition education programs, which seek to teach youth and adults about smart food choices that will promote better health.
- Participating in children’s education programs to give students living with hunger the additional tutoring and academic support they need to succeed.
- Collecting and donating warm winter coats for the New York Cares Coat Drive, so that parents do not need to choose between a coat and a meal for their children.
New York Cares is proud to run programs that combat hunger and its effects, not only during the holidays but on a year-round basis.
Gary Bagley is the Executive Director of New York Cares.
Have comments, questions, or just want to be in the loop? Tweet him at @GBagley_NYCares