In the Harlem section of New York City, people come early and line up each day for food to feed their families at a pantry run by the Food Bank for New York City.
The food comes from several kilometers away at a massive distribution warehouse in the Bronx where supplies come in from the government, food companies, and donors. Row after row of canned goods, household products and fresh fruits and vegetables are neatly stacked.
According to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, nearly one in five New York City residents is "food insecure."
The Food Bank, a non-profit social services organization, delivered 35 million kilograms of food to pantries and kitchens in New York’s five boroughs this past year. In the past five years the number of people on food assistance in New York alone has risen by over 200,000, according to city figures.
And Food Bank CEO Margaret Purvis says the need is getting greater with each passing day.
“We talk about the haves and the have nots — we talk about the gap between the rich and the poor," she said. "What we’re seeing more and more in the world of poverty is that it’s not a gap. It’s more like a canyon, and the distance between those who have and those who do not is really quite devastating."
At the pantry, volunteers play an important part in preparing foodstuffs.
“I never really volunteered anywhere before,” said one woman who chose to withhold her name. “I’ve done little things in high school, so it’s been a while, but it just makes you appreciate what you have, but also how much more people out there need help.”
One recent day, a financial services company was preparing bags of macaroni for distribution. Needy folk are not just given food. They are also taught simple, cheap, and nutritious recipes.
“This is roasted sweet potato mash,” Sunny Anderson, a Food Network host told them. “It’s really, really easy. It’s just sweet potatoes, onion, salt, pepper and butter. It’s delicious.”
Pantry customers do not pay for food but are granted allotments based on the size of their families.
Camesha Grant, the Food Bank's director of member services, said a cutback in food stamps in 2013 resulted in a significant increase in hungry New Yorkers.
“One in five are children, and one in six are seniors," she said. "And just to really make the point, we’re talking about working people. We see people who have jobs, who are working every day but really struggling to make ends meet. So it’s really been a challenge.”
It’s a quiet crisis. And it's getting worse. According to a report issued by the USDA, the number of people on food assistance in New York City alone has risen by over 200,000 in the last five years.