Borough Buzz: City food kitchens brace for more food stamp cuts

February 25, 2014
By Rachael Levy 

On a recent icy afternoon, about 50 people lined up outside Masbia, a food kitchen in Queens. They waited 30 minutes past the scheduled dinnertime as kitchen workers struggled to open for service.

“It’s not easy,” said Racquel Kahn, who had come off a 45-minute subway ride from Manhattan, as she shivered outside. She said she started coming to the pantry after her food stamps were cut by about $10 a month last fall.

Ever since those cuts, the city’s pantries have reported an influx of hungry people. About half of the pantries ran out of food after November’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps, according to a study conducted by Food Bank for New York City.

And it could get worse.

Food pantries are expecting more visitors after Congress passed in early February the long-debated farm bill, which includes additional food stamp cuts that will go into effect later this year.

The Queens location for Masbia, the most robust kosher food kitchen in New York, is opening three hours longer per day in order to hand out more groceries, said Masbia’s executive director Alexander Rapaport.

“We’re a young soup kitchen, we always anticipate growth,” Rapaport said. “But the effects [of the cuts] are there.”

Two hundred percent more people came to Masbia in November and December 2013 than the same period the previous year, he said.

“We live hand to mouth,” he said, adding that he is seeking more funding for food.

Chris Bean, executive director of Part of the Solution, the largest food pantry in the Bronx, said he expected to serve at least 800,000 meals in 2014, 50,000 more than he did last year. Bean plans on seeking more funding from private donors to accommodate that uptick.

The latest cuts – which amount to around $90 per family per month – target those who benefit from government-subsidized heating, 25 percent of whom are based in New York City, according to food pantry organizers.

“Mark my words, poor people are going to suffer more for it,” Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said days after the Farm Bill was passed. “We’re not going to be able to counteract the cuts. We’re going to be able to do the best we can.”

Rafaela Rivera, 35, who lost her job as a home health aide last year, started going to Part of the Solution for groceries to feed her 9-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and husband, who is disabled and does not work. After her food stamp benefits were cut $36 a month last November – a drop from $456 to $420 – she finds that she has to go to the food pantry more often to fill the gap. In January, she said her food stamp money came 11 days late and so she said she had to rely on the pantry to get by.

“I was at the point where I would have had to ask the neighbor [for food money],” Rivera said. “I don’t wanna have to ask the neighbor.”

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