New York state to give $25M to food banks

Demand at food banks has surged statewide with downstate seeing the greatest hit.

Line at the Campaign Against Hunger food pantry in Brooklyn on April 14th.

Line at the Campaign Against Hunger food pantry in Brooklyn on April 14th. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

With demand at regional food banks soaring by as much as 200%, New York will offer $25 million in emergency relief funding for food banks and other providers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.

While the need for food assistance has soared throughout the state, downstate regions have seen the greatest surges. Demand has doubled at New York City food banks and has tripled for those in Westchester, the governor said. 

Many soup kitchens, food banks and other emergency food providers have been unable to meet that demand. More than one-third of such sites in New York City have closed since the pandemic began. The costs of securing food and handling staff shortages for institutions that are traditionally reliant on a dwindling volunteer workforce have made it difficult for organizations to manage the financial and logistical difficulties of meeting that demand.

The governor also announced a new initiative on Wednesday, to be overseen by six appointed state officials, to connect upstate farms – particularly dairy producers – to food banks across the state. Dairy farmers upstate have had to resort to dumping milk that would normally be sent to schools and restaurants that are now closed. The state will partner with producers to distribute that milk and convert much of it into products such as yogurt and cheese to be sent to emergency food providers. It will likely be a challenge for organizations receiving the food as well, who also have a limited amount of space to refrigerate perishable goods like milk.

Connecting nonprofits offering hunger relief to goods offered by farmers has been a challenge on the federal level as well. Tens of millions of pounds of produce have been left to rot while the federal government has scrambled to create a plan to buy up such surplus and distribute it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently plans to spend a total of $300 million per month on fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and cooked meat products for the next six months. The food will be sorted into boxes that the agency plans to begin sending out by May 15.