(By Margarette Purvis). From Riverdale to Crown Heights, Jewish neighborhoods all across the city are grappling with a silent issue: hunger.
Research conducted by UJA-Federation of New York reveals that over half a million people in New York City Jewish households struggle with poverty or near poverty. While we take care to remember those in need during the holidays, our attention and awareness can quickly fade even though their need does not. And this need is sadly growing as research shows that the number of people in poor Jewish families has risen dramatically, in fact doubling over a 20-year span
Hunger does not discriminate. In our expensive city, Jewish New Yorkers in all boroughs and from all walks of life are struggling to put their next meal on the table. The Russian immigrant living in Rego Park. The mother of five in Washington Heights. The yeshiva student studying in Flatbush. And vulnerable Jewish seniors have a poverty rate of 31% in New York City – making them especially susceptible to hunger.
Finding affordable food in our city isn’t easy, and finding affordable kosher food is that much harder, preventing many budget-strapped Jewish families from being able to uphold their traditions with dignity. On average, kosher food is 20 percent more expensive than non-kosher food, and sometimes kosher food can be twice the cost of non-kosher food found in the same supermarket.
But the proposed budget being negotiated at City Hall would cut our city’s food supply for food pantries and soup kitchens, making it much more difficult to provide enough kosher meals to Jewish families fighting hunger.
The City’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) is the lifeline for nearly 500 soup kitchens and food pantries citywide, including those serving Jewish neighborhoods and kosher-keeping families. EFAP provides a stable, year-round supply of nutritious kosher food to 28 kosher food pantries and soup kitchens; collectively, these charities help thousands of Jewish families secure their next meal. Yet the proposed $8.2 million in funding for EFAP represents a significant $1.8 million cut from current levels, and could put these institutions in jeopardy of fulfilling their missions.
Even worse, the $8.2 million commitment in the Executive Budget is little more than a third of the $22 million in funding that Food Bank For New York City and the New York City Council, including the body’s entire Jewish caucus, supports to better meet the city’s hunger needs. As Council Member Mark Levine, the chair of the Jewish Caucus, stressed in his call for increased funding: “while poverty in the Jewish community is often hidden, emergency food assistance is crucial to supporting Jewish families who struggle to pay for healthy kosher food.”
It’s clear: we can’t let any more Jewish families wonder where they’ll get their next meal, or make the choice between keeping kosher or going to bed hungry. And we can’t leave kosher food pantries and soup kitchens — resource-strapped charities — scrambling to make up for cruel and unnecessary cuts in one of the most valuable and important supplies of kosher food available to them. We urge you to join us in calling on the city to raise the budget for EFAP to $22 million to address this silent issue and support those in need.
Margarette Purvis is the president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City.
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of JP.
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