One in five New York City children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Because fixed expenses like rent, childcare, and transportation costs are so high in the city, many families are forced to cut back on a more flexible expense—food. “Food is something that’s a little more elastic. Parents could maybe skip a meal in order to feed their children, which is a really tough choice that no one should have to make,” Samantha Park, communications manager for City Harvest, says. “So that’s where City Harvest comes in. We want to make sure that no family in NYC has to make that decision.”
Since 1982, City Harvest has been rescuing excess food that would otherwise be thrown out and distributing it to New Yorkers through a network of soup kitchens, food pantries, and other community organizations. Because of its large, efficient operations, “it costs us just 25 cents to rescue and deliver a pound of food,” Park says. “One pound of food helps feed one person for a day.”
The Skip Lunch, Fight Hunger Campaign
That money has to come from somewhere. This year marks the 16th year of the Skip Lunch, Fight Hunger campaign, which will be held May 14-18. The campaign began when Dana Cowin, then editor-in-chief of Food and Wine magazine, passed paper bags around the office to encourage coworkers to donate their lunch money to City Harvest. “Ever since then it’s really turned into this big thing where New Yorkers are coming together to join in and make a big difference,” Nicole Sumner, a member of the Business Partnerships Team at City Harvest, says. The Skip Lunch, Fight Hunger campaign raised 1.1 million dollars last year. One donation of 15 dollars “can help City Harvest feed 60 kids,” she continues.
Getting Kids Involved
Although the Skip Lunch, Fight Hunger campaign focuses on adult donors, kids can raise money in other ways. For example, instead of receiving birthday gifts, Sumner says they could “ask for people to donate money to help City Harvest feed our neighbors.” She also suggests “holding a lemonade stand, or any other situation where kids can help raise money to help feed people.”
There are also hands-on volunteer opportunities, even for younger kids. Kids 8 years old and up can volunteer to repack food at City Harvest’s rescue facility in Queens. “That’s a great way to see all the excess food that we’re rescuing,” Park says, “and to know that it’s going to feed a hungry family that same day is really impactful for a lot of families.” Older kids can also volunteer at City Harvest’s Mobile Markets, which distribute produce like a farmer’s market. Kids of all ages can also hold food drives at their school. City Harvest will pick the food up (as long as there’s more than 100 pounds) and distribute it.
Eating Healthy On A Budget
City Harvest does more than just distribute food: It helps families eat healthfully no matter their means. For example, nutrition educator Julieta Velasco advises buying seasonal produce, but acknowledges that it isn’t an option year-round. “I think it’s just hard to have to buy produce out of season that is fresh during the winter,” she says. Because of this, she recommends “buying in bulk, especially during the summer.” That way, families can freeze the excess for later consumption. Families can also improve their diet simply by switching up their cooking methods. “For example, instead of frying, we’ll recommend baking, broiling, or grilling, which is more healthy,” Velasco says.
She also suggests that parents make meals family time, involving kids in every part of the process. “Just including kids in the selection and preparation of food is key,” she says. Giving them an official role in the kitchen (be that dishwasher, vegetable scrubber, or onion dicer) can be quite impactful. Velasco also stresses the importance of having positive conversations during meal time. “It’s so important that families try to make some time to get together and not talk about anything that can be negative.” She suggests orienting the conversation around the meal, which could be “related to an ingredient that they are eating or something that they found out, like a new recipe that they’re exploring.”
Involving kids in discussions about food is also a great way to teach them about food insecurity and get them interested in making a difference. No matter what they do, Sumner says “every little bit can make a really big impact.”