This year marks WhyHunger’s 38th Hungerthon! To kick off our campaign, we want to spotlight some of our amazing grassroots partners, who are working hard to end hunger in New York City and advocate for all New Yorkers’ human right to nutritious food. Read on to learn more from our first Hungerthon Partner Spotlight: Neighbors Together.
Myth: Food insecurity in NYC has gone down since the pandemic
Reality: Emergency food providers are handing out more meals now than ever before
In 2023, you might look around and think that New York has ‘gone back to normal’. That the people we saw on TV waiting in long lines for emergency food in 2020 now have the food they need to feed themselves. That the rates of hunger and food insecurity which skyrocketed during the pandemic, have gone down.
But WhyHunger’s partners like Neighbors Together need you to understand; this is not the case.
Neighbors Together’s mission is to end hunger and poverty in some of the lowest income areas in NYC, and in turn, the US. They’ve been around for over 40 years, serving the communities of Brownsville, Bedford Stuvesant and Ocean Hill in Brooklyn, NY. And right now, they are seeing what some of us might not be - that New York City is living a hunger and housing crisis, worse than during the pandemic.
WhyHunger recently visited Neighbors Together’s cafe, where they serve warm meals Monday-Friday, to speak to staff, volunteers, and members, and to hear from them about the need they’re seeing in their communities. “Since COVID-19, we have not seen a decrease in our meal services, we have actually seen a drastic increase in our meal service,” explained Chrisitna Singh, Director of Donor Relations and Communications.
Emergency food providers across the U.S. are witnessing the same thing - more people need their services now than ever. As the cost of living rises and wages remain low, as housing becomes impossibly expensive and emergency SNAP benefits come to an end, people who have never needed emergency food before are coming to Neighbors Together.
Sandro Ortega, Operations Volunteer Manager, explains that particularly in the past 6 months, the number of people coming to Neighbors Together for a meal has actually increased, as people can’t afford housing or basic needs. “We’re seeing so many new faces,” he said. “We went from serving 200-250 to now close to 500 people, per meal, for lunch and dinner.”
New York City is currently experiencing a housing crisis, and a migrant crisis. And when people are in crisis, when they don’t have a home or they don’t know where to turn to for food, Neighbors Together is a place where they can find fresh, healthy food. And while a fresh meal is essential to health and wellbeing, people in crisis need to be supported to get out of crisis, by finding housing, or job trainings, or greater stability.
Christina explains that the core of what Neighbors Together does is serve people warm, fresh meals. But they don’t stop there - they also address housing, and housing instability, and legislation that is not supporting their members. Neighbors Together knows that, to really end hunger, they have to tackle its root causes.
Myth: Individuals are hungry because of their own choices
Reality: We will only end hunger by making systemic changes
Neighbors Together has 3 holistic programs that support members to get themselves out of crisis. Their Community Cafe, their core program, serves meals to anyone who needs one from Monday through Friday. They also have an Empowerment Program which offers job training, housing placements, and everything under the sun regarding social services and members health and wellbeing. Additionally, Neighbors Together runs their Community Action program, an organizing and public policy program, where they empower members to use their voices and talk to legislators, as well as draft legislation; Legislation that supports their community, that’s coming from their community.
Christina told WhyHunger, “At Neighbors Together, we really believe that we can’t just look at food, at giving people food - we have to look at why people are hungry. Why are people coming to our doors? Why are people here more than ever before? We have to get to these root causes.”
The housing crisis is a major contributor to hunger and food insecurity. Neighbors Together used to focus on food as a primary need, and now their focus is really hand-in-hand with housing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they stayed open to make sure their community was fed, pivoting to a to-go model for their meals and offering their social and organizing services online. They saw just how much not having a homebase can destabilize someone’s life. While others were sheltering in place, many in their community did not have a home to shelter in, to keep themselves safe, or a kitchen where they could cook their meals. Many of their members were staying in communal shelters, where they could reach over and touch another person’s bed.
Neighbors Together began actively advocating for members to be placed into hotels, or in shelters that were not communal, and advocated for legislation to find housing for members.
Now, Neighbors Together has been helping their members find a place to call their own. Members like Khalyl who, prior to finding an apartment of his own with Neighbors Together’s support, was staying in shelters and communal spaces, living in one place temporarily, and then another, without hope that he would ever find his own housing. When he came to Neighbors Together, staff guided him through the process to find his own apartment, advocating for him all along. “They helped me get my own apartment, with no roommates. I’ve been very happy about that thus far,” Khalyl told WhyHunger.
“When someone has a home, everything in their life changes,” Christina explains.
The value of safe housing cannot be underestimated. It’s a place where members can cook their meals, feel a sense of stability, it’s a homebase to come back to after a job interview or a day at work. When you don’t have that, there’s a dramatic increase in instability.
“Right now, we’re in the worst housing crisis that we’ve ever seen in New York. We’re seeing the reflection of that at our front doors at Neighbors Together.” To truly end hunger and poverty, people must be able to afford housing.
How can you support Neighbors Together –
Check out their website to learn more about their work, learn about their Fall campaign, or to make a donation. Christina explains, “We run on donations fully, so donations actively support members being fed, housed, and drafting legislation to support their lives.”
Another way to support is to volunteer! Neighbors Together is always looking for people to serve meals in their Community Cafe. Bring your enthusiasm, openness to learning, and your excitement for their work and mission to end hunger and poverty in their communities.
WhyHunger has been a proud partner and supporter of Neighbors Together for nearly a decade. To learn more about WhyHunger’s Hungerthon visit Hungerthon.org.