Queens hit hardest by food bank cuts


| aaltman@queenscourier.com |

Photo courtesy of the River Fund
Photo courtesy of the River Fund

Soup kitchen and food pantry cuts, spread across the five boroughs, may leave less-fortunate New Yorkers hungry.

Due to federal budget cuts in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city lost 11 million meals over the past year. That is a 40 percent decrease in the amount of food available to low-income residents.

Congress is also considering cutting several billion dollars from the food stamp program over the next 10 years — an initiative that nearly half of those reliant on food pantries depend on.

Of the five boroughs, Queens saw the highest decrease in the amount of available food, shrinking by roughly 41 percent from fiscal year 2011 to 2012.

“On a normal basis, we’re scurrying to get enough food. With cuts, it makes it that much more impossible to keep up with the clients we’re dealing with,” said Swami Durga Das, executive director of the River Fund, a Richmond Hill-based food pantry and social services agency that assists about 600 families weekly.

“The government sees this as a place where they can make cuts without repercussions,” said Durga Das. “I think no one particularly feels the ramifications from cuts except the people we’re serving.”

Triada Stampas, senior director of government relations for the Food Bank For New York City, said the number of New Yorkers relying of food banks has increased dramatically since the start of the recession, bringing unfamiliar faces into soup kitchens and food pantries. Nearly 1.5 million city residents rely on the Food Bank For New York City – the main supplier of food across the metropolitan area.

According to Stampas, 35 percent of New Yorkers struggle to afford food.

Many of the 850 centers in the Food Bank For New York City network have been forced to limit their hours and access while turning to private donors for assistance and stretching their resources as far as possible.

According to Stampas, TEFAP was a mainstay of many food pantries, which used other sources to supplement their inventory. Now TEFAP only supplies a few items. Stampas said a south Queens pantry received only beans, milk and cereal from TEFAP last week.

“Find me a chef who can make a meal out of that,” Stampas said.

Stampas said that while it’s difficult to predict future trends in government spending, her organization has budgeted for its TEFAP supply to drop by another third.

“We need a policy change so we don’t end up in this boat again where our single biggest source of food cannot be counted on at all,” said Stampas.