Members of the U.S. Army National Guard distribute boxes of free food provided by multiple New York City agencies, during the…
Members of the U.S. Army National Guard distribute boxes of free food provided by multiple New York City agencies, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, April 15, 2020.

NEW YORK - New York City is launching a $170 million initiative to improve food security for its 8.6 million residents, as hunger grows amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will not allow any New Yorker to go hungry,” Mayor Bill de Blasio declared Wednesday.

Nearly a half-million residents have lost their jobs or are expected to as a result of the outbreak, contributing to a rise in food insecurity. Before the pandemic, about 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure, including one in five children.

“This crisis is now adding to that number of people who are food insecure every day, because people are running out of money every day,” the mayor said. “So we expect it to grow.”

New York has been hit harder by the virus than any other U.S. city. As of early Wednesday evening, there have been more than 100,000 confirmed infections and more than 6,000 residents have died in hospitals. The city says as many as 3,000 more residents may have died at home of virus-related symptoms.

10 million meals in April

Since nonessential businesses including restaurants, bars and cinemas shut down in mid-March, impacting the local economy, the city has served 4.5 million meals to New Yorkers through "grab and go” food pickup sites at public schools and centers for the elderly. In April, the city expects to distribute 10 million free meals.

“That’s going to go up in May,” the mayor said. “It is easily going to be between 10 [million] and 15 million meals in May, at the rate we are going.”

To both ease hunger and help the unemployed, the city has hired 11,000 licensed taxi drivers to deliver thousands of meals to homebound residents.

Members of the U.S. Army National Guard distribute boxes of free food provided by multiple New York City agencies, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, April 15, 2020.

“These drivers are doing that, helping us feed people. They are being paid by the shift, so they are getting money back in their pockets to feed their families in turn,” de Blasio said. “This is going to have a huge positive effect on the people doing the work, but even more, they are doing something absolutely crucial to help the most vulnerable among us.”

The city is also looking at strategies to keep the general food supply stable. In March, there was a great deal of panic buying at supermarkets, and some shelves remain low on items including water, pasta, eggs and meat.

Rest stops for truckers

The mayor said nearly 90% of the city’s food is delivered by truck, and New York is opening two safe rest stops for them so they can take breaks after long drives.

“Even a small disruption in the food supply would have a negative effect on New Yorkers — we won’t let that happen,” the mayor said.

He said the city will spend $50 million from its initiative on an emergency food reserve. “This will allow us to purchase and store 18 million shelf-stable meals,” he said. “This means we will have a fail safe; we will have a reserve that is just for New York City — to protect us no matter what happens — 18 million meals ready at all times.”

Last month, the mayor also named a “food czar” for the city. Kathryn Garcia said her team is scaling up on all fronts.

“We will not compound the tragedy of the pandemic with the tragedy of hunger,” she declared.

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