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Fighting Hunger in New York - An Inside look at Food Bank, Citymeals-on-Wheels, and CityHarvest

by Matt DeLucia

In a wealthy nation steeped in pride and dignity, it is perhaps a bitter paradox that 33 million Americans, including 13 million children, live in households that experience hunger regularly. Food insecurity, a term that refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet ones basic needs for financial reasons, has increased dramatically in the past five years. In the time period between 1999 and 2004, over 3 million households have been added to this category according to the USDA studies. Adding to this growing problem is a congressional bill that promises to cut nearly a billion dollars from the federal Food Stamp program. If enacted, this action promises to add one quarter of a million people to what the U.S. Census bureau categorizes as “hungry” citizens. As it awaits approval, many in Congress, in what appears to be a cruel Holiday hoax, still hold out hope that billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy will also be simultaneously approved.

Is our great and strong country turning its collective head away from its most complex problems? Are we being led by individuals who are out of touch with the suffering of the poor and needs of the common American family? When the hunger of twelve percent of an entire population is cause for neither a universal public consternation nor a severely needed political wakeup call, then this community of ours is indeed in trouble.

Nestled among this insanity, however, there is hope. Walking intrepidly among us are everyday men and women, “angels” in our midst, who when banded together accomplish more than any politician could ever hope to achieve. These heroes unreservedly offer a most precious commodity, the one gift that is theirs to give free of charge, yet is unequivocally non-redeemable; their time.

You do not have to be a famous chef to be a soldier in the war on hunger, nor do you have to write an enormous check to make a difference in someone’s life. Thanks to organizations like Food Bank, City Harvest, and Citymeals on Wheels, there are so many options for those fortunate people who have never experienced hunger in their lives to help those who experience it every day. I ask you to carefully read each one of our three articles, and hopefully you will find a program that touches your heart enough to share the most precious gift, besides love, that any of us has to give – the gift of food to the hungry.


Citymeals-on-Wheels is a non-profit organization that annually delivers 2.3 million meals to 17,000 elderly New Yorkers on weekends, holidays and in emergency situations, times when they otherwise would be alone and hungry. As has always been our policy, 100% of contributions from the public will be used entirely for the preparation and delivery of meals. The organization, however, is about more than just food. It recognizes the great need the elderly have for human company and companionship.

Recently a program called “Friendly Visiting” was expanded to three additional sites—one in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one in Harlem. Volunteers are matched with homebound seniors who live alone and have little or no family or friends nearby; then tag along on meal deliveries to socialize and provide some human company for meal recipients who may not see anyone else throughout the day. Other programs include “Senior Script” where volunteers write personalized hand-written responses to Citymeals recipients; and “Senior Chat,” where volunteers are assigned one senior with whom they conduct a weekly phone call.

Citymeals regularly receives letters from meal recipients who are so grateful to get their daily meals and a visit from the meal deliverer, so they know what kind of an impact the work has on the people of New York. They also have partnerships with New York City school children who make cards for the holidays each year to be placed in Emergency Food Packages, bringing together these different generations. The students and the volunteers working with Citymeals have expressed that it’s a two-way street: they get a return on their involvement.

The organization reaches what they call our “invisible neighbors.” Recently, CNN reporter Paula Zahn went on a meal delivery to a Citymeals recipient’s home, and this educated, civically-aware professional who sees tragedy day in and day out at CNN left the apartment in tears. She talked about how heartbreaking it is to see someone living in an apartment the size of a closet. The woman Zahn visited literally hasn’t left the confines of her apartment in nine years.

Citymeals encourages people to have this kind of open-mindedness when it comes to the population it serves. The human spirit element of Citymeals can reach many levels when people take the time to learn. Meal deliverers are affected, volunteers are affected, staff are affected. Above all, Citymeals is about allowing the elderly to maintain some dignity and independence as they age in their own homes and in the neighborhoods that are familiar to them, with as much normalcy and human companionship as possible.

Financial Support

Citymeals is a public-private partnership with the City of New York, and also relies on direct mail campaigns, donations from the general public, grants, and sponsorships. Board of Directors and event sponsors underwrite administrative and event costs. They guarantee that 100% of the donations made from the public will go directly to providing warm, nutritious, home-delivered meals. Through some special funding partnerships, Citymeals has been able to provide consistent, sustainable support for new initiatives like the Weekday Waitlist program which provides weekday meals to seniors who would otherwise not receive meals. This year, major gifts will account for about 28% of the money raised by Citymeals-on-Wheels.

“I cannot see myself being successful and cooking the best ingredients for the luckiest people of the planet without being sensitive to the very basic needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Having hungry people in America - the richest country in the world - is not acceptable, and I feel good about being involved in any organization that is committed to making a difference in stopping hunger.”
– Eric Ripert, Executive Chef/Co-Owner, Le Bernardin


Citymeals-on-Wheels hosts three key chef events each year, plus an additional benefit lunch in the Rainbow Room, all of which are extremely important to the life and financial health of Citymeals. There are a handful of Board members who are directly related to the food world, including Chef Daniel Boulud and restaurateurs Drew Nieporent and Nick Valenti.

The connection started originally through renowned Chef James Beard and restaurant critic Gael Greene, who roused the restaurant community, particularly chefs, into opening their kitchens, wallets and hearts to homebound seniors who often went without meals. Citymeals was founded with the restaurant community and they’ve stayed loyal to the charity 24 years later. Today, Citymeals has Board members and loyal chefs across the country who came into the public face through their events, particularly the Annual Chefs’ Tribute in Rockefeller Center, back when the term “celebrity chef” didn’t even exist. Now those celebrity chefs are vital to Citymeals-on-Wheels’ ability to raise money.

Annual Chefs’ Tribute -- More than 1,200 business and civic leaders, socialites, young professionals, food enthusiasts, industry trendsetters, chefs and restaurateurs stroll, dine and dance each year at this star-studded annual event that features dozens of tasting stations offering gourmet masterpieces prepared by more than 30 top chefs from New York and across the country. One hundred percent of every dollar raised in ticket sales at this event will fund the preparation and delivery of more than 200,000 meals.

 “Vulnerable seniors would otherwise go without food without the help of Citymeals-on-Wheels. A great way to show you care about our community and our homebound elderly is to get involved - by donating, by volunteering, by hosting, participating or attending a fundraising event.”
– Nick Valenti, CEO, Restaurant Associates

Savoring Citymeals

Chef Emeril Lagasse was a guest and celebrity auctioneer at “Savoring Citymeals,” a gourmet five-course dinner prepared by six of the most celebrated chefs in New York on Sunday, March 13th, 2005 at 6pm. Daniel Boulud, who hosted the event at his Daniel restaurant, was joined by Alain Ducasse of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House; Thomas Keller of Per Se; Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin; Masa Takayama of Masa; and Jean-Georges Vongerichten of Jean-Georges.

Corporate Dineout

Corporate Dineout is an opportunity for guests to explore the restaurant scene in Manhattan, experience a dream meal, and have a top New York City Chef personally cater to them. Restaurants including Daniel, Le Bernadin, Nobu, Union Square Café and others donate a table of six that donors can purchase for $3,000. Guests are treated to a unique menu designed for them and complemented by champagne courtesy of Dom Pérignon.

This event typically funds the delivery of over 130,000 nutritious meals to homebound elderly New Yorkers. 100% of each $3,000 contribution ensures that 600 nutritious meals are hand delivered to those who are lonely, frail and elderly.

Power Lunch

This annual event began eighteen years ago, when Citymeals founder Gael Greene and Board member Joan Weill decided to spoof the concept of a power breakfast (largely a male institution) and hold a Power Lunch exclusively for women. Since then the lunch has grown into a networking imperative for the city’s most influential women...and the small group of generous men who pay $10,000 for the privilege of lunching with them. This year’s guests include Katie Couric, Joan Collins, Bobbi Brown, Diane Von Furstenberg, Ivana Trump, Paula Zahn, First Lady Libby Pataki and Citymeals Board member Kathleen Turner. And, most importantly, the event usually raises around $800,000 - enough to provide another 160,000 nutritious meals to our city’s homebound elderly.

Industry support and sponsorships

Citymeals could always use more support and sponsorships from the restaurant world to maintain the goal that all ticket sales go directly to home-delivered meals. Donations of food and ingredients for dishes at events would be extremely helpful, and any other support restaurants could absorb that would help lessen the cost for each event.

Of course Citymeals could do more events and programs if they had more support, just like any non-profit. For example, Steve Hanson, B.R. Guest restaurants, Simon Oren and Brothers BBQ have been incredibly generous by hosting traditional Thanksgiving dinners for homebound seniors each year, but with more hosts, Citymeals could give even more seniors a festive Thanksgiving meal on the holiday, a day when they’re typically alone and isolated. Or, members of the food industry could host another event, meal or program for seniors as a way to give back. Citymeals is always looking for more people to volunteer on a daily basis—chefs and restaurateurs could offer some insight into the kitchens and nutrition.


Providing A Place At The Table For All New Yorkers

The 7 a.m. shift kicks into gear and unloads tens of thousands of pounds of food from trucks that arrive in a near-steady stream at the Food Bank For New York City’s 100,000 square foot warehouse. By the time the second shift punches out at 10:00 p.m., food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, senior centers and other community food programs throughout the five boroughs are stocked with provisions to help make possible the 250,000 meals served daily to New Yorkers in need.

After more than two decades, the Food Bank is the city’s preeminent expert in finding and tapping sources of fresh and packaged food from local and national food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and food distributors and distributing more than 67 million pounds of food, including 11 million pounds of fresh produce, to our network of 1,300 food programs across the city. A member of America’s Second Harvest, the Nation’s Food Bank Network, a contractor with government agencies and the primary supplier of food to the city’s emergency food network, our organization works like a well-oiled machine that can turn every dollar into five nourishing meals served to hungry New Yorkers.

“Chefs can’t feed everyone in New York City. But, through the Food Bank, they can help ensure that everyone is fed.” – Gregory Boroff, Food Bank’s Vice President of External Relations

In addition to our basic commitment to providing food, the Food Bank serves as an immense clearinghouse of information and resources that enable our network of programs to build capacity and expand services. Monthly nutrition workshops, for example, are conducted by our full-time staff nutritionists to help ensure that food pantry bags are packed with nutrients, kids at our after-school Kids Cafe programs understand and adopt good eating habits, and soup kitchens, senior centers and other cook-on-site programs regularly practice proper food safety and handling. Meanwhile, the Food Bank’s Volunteer Referral Program matches volunteers with existing opportunities in their community to provide both one-time volunteer efforts and long-term commitments.

Another pillar of our long-term commitment to ending hunger is research, enabling us to gauge trends, identify high-need areas for new programs and raise public perception of the hunger issue, in an effort to educate government and the public of the growing problem. More than 2 million are at risk of hunger, according to the “Food Bank’s Hunger Safety Net 2004” study and this holiday season a public opinion poll “NYC Hunger Experience” shows that the number of New Yorkers experiencing difficulty affording food rose from one-quarter in 2003 to almost one-third in 2005. What’s more, the number of New Yorkers experiencing difficulty doubled and tripled among populations not usually associated with poverty and hunger – those earning $75,000 and more and college graduates.

Today, with the number of mostly women with children, elderly and the working poor ratcheting upward throughout our network of food programs, we find ourselves looking at the greatest challenge that any organization could face: ending hunger.

“We realized that making an investment in the Food Bank is really backing all the city’s front-line crusaders fighting hunger.” – David Saltzman, Executive Director, Robin Hood Foundation

But “If we work together, nothing is impossible,” said Winston Churchill. This underlies the Food Bank’s commitment to do what we need to do. The seamless workings of our organization is testament to the Food Banks staff, our board of directors, the thousands of mostly volunteer program workers, and our many corporate, foundation and individual partners who literally put their backs, and their hearts, into feeding more than a million hungry men, women and children a year.

The wrenching acid test of the Food Bank’s resourcefulness and collaboration came in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, when the Food Bank went into 24/7 mode, supporting ground zero relief groups like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and police stations and sustaining its network of food programs. We jumped into a similar disaster response mode with the advent of this year’s hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, where we diverted food through the America’s Second Harvest network, sent trained staff to facilitate the relief efforts, and tapped into our public and corporate support for the people devastated by this crisis.

“As someone who has always earned a living from preparing food, it is extremely important to me to be involved with City Harvest, City Meals-on-Wheels and others who provide food assistance and relief from hunger to those in need. I believe in giving, and I encourage those around me to do the same. Who knows, but if everyone did a little bit to help feed others, maybe there would be no hunger left in the world. That is a time I look forward to.”
– Gray Kunz

Our “togetherness” – our partnership – has had tremendous influence in vitalizing our organization and the work that we do. Each day the Food Bank teams up with food companies, corporations, foundations, restaurants, supermarkets, chefs, celebrities and other individuals to raise, food, funds and awareness for the city’s growing hunger issue.

During the holiday season alone, the city’s financial banks transform into food banks for our award-winning NYC Bank-to-Bank Partnership food drive; supermarkets collect financial donations from grocery shoppers for our in-store Check Out Hunger program; New York sports teams, including the Giants, Jets, and Knicks, help distribute 10,500 turkeys and holiday fixings to soup kitchens and food pantries as part of the Food Bank’s Thanksgiving For Five effort; corporate and media partners join the city’s monuments like the Empire State Building and Lincoln Center to “Go Orange” in a show of solidarity and support for those who need our help; and 100+ celebrities from the entertainment, fashion, art, music, literary and culinary worlds, specially designed lunchboxes for an eBay on-line auction, The Lunchbox Auction, to help end hunger among children.

The Food Bank’s partnership with New York City chefs is aimed at making sure that “everyone has a seat at the table.” Time Out for Hunger, held with long-time partner Time Out New York magazine brings fellow “foodies” together with TONY “Top 100” restaurants to benefit the Food Bank. But the “menu” of chef partnership opportunities doesn’t stop there. From hands-on cooking parties and corporate events that raise awareness and funds for hunger, to donating dinners, private parties and cooking lessons for the Food Bank’s fundraising efforts, we regularly cater to individual chef and restaurant offerings to create the most meaningful... and delicious... collaborations.

“For me, it’s all about getting down to basics...the basics in cooking and the organizations that I support. It doesn’t get more basic than ensuring that everyone has a meal. This is why my family and I have continued to support the Food Bank.”
– Chef Mario Batali, Food Bank Board member

Without strong connections with the city’s restaurants and the dedication of chefs, we simply wouldn’t be able to do what we do. Our “Chef’s Menu” provides a variety of ways you can help the Food Bank For New York City. To get a copy and learn what you and your restaurant can do, contact us at 212.566.7855 or log onto


Every day, City Harvest’s 15 signature green and white refrigerated trucks cover New York’s boroughs, making it possible for City Harvest’s loyal partners to make a difference in the lives of the more than one million New Yorkers who seek emergency food.

Who are the faces behind that statistic? How is it possible for City Harvest, a 98% privately funded food rescue organization, to help feed more than 260,000 women, men and children each week free-of-charge? What kind of connection could exist between a child who thinks a carrot is a cheese doodle and a five star New York City chef?

There’s the story of Carmen Pena, a senior citizen, who has been working and using the services of the Community Center of Immigrants in Inwood for four years. Then there are two women who hope they are only temporarily receiving food from the Community League of W. 159th Street. Marianna Rodriguez, who currently lost her job when the company relocated to NJ, has two children and is on public assistance while seeking employment. Christina West is not working currently so that she can raise her five children. Her husband recently lost his job and as they struggle to pay rent or face eviction, they are grateful for the food they receive at the Community League.

These proud women and men work hard to provide for themselves and their children. The more City Harvest can provide healthy food to those in need at the 800 community food programs it serves, the more those agencies and the women, men and children served will have the nutritious food they need to get back on their feet. It’s the personal stories like these that bring passion to those who work for and support City Harvest.

That feeling of giving and receiving is what brings together City Harvest’s partners in the food industry to make food donations to the soup kitchens and food pantries City Harvest serves. Many chefs, restaurateurs and others in the food industry lend their time and considerable talents to City Harvest’s Food Council. Whether it’s by donating some of the best food in New York City or helping to raise funds to keep City Harvest’s trucks on the road, this generous group works to create exciting ways to bring visibility to the organization’s work to fight hunger.

It’s for families like the ones described above that 50 of New York City’s top chefs recently raised more than $400,000 in one night at the annual Bid Against Hunger. The walk-around tasting and auction is a memorable event that City Harvest’s donors, chefs and partners look forward to each fall, but there are many restaurants, chefs, retailers, like-minded organizations and individuals who step forward throughout the year to raise funds to help City Harvest.

Amazingly, government grants make up only one percent of donations to City Harvest whereas 60 percent is donated food and individual, foundation and corporate support totals 33 percent.

What makes City Harvest unique is the organization’s simple way to fight hunger. Pick up donated food that would otherwise go to waste from restaurants and farmers, coffee houses and grocers. Take the food, immediately if possible, to one of the more than 800 agencies that receive the food, or to a short term facility where the large pallets can be broken down into manageable quantities so that agencies can receive a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other foods in one delivery.

“City Harvest creates a link between all walks of life in the city. They deliver a smart and efficient solution to ending hunger in New York.” – Alain Ducasse

To receive donated food from City Harvest, organizations must be in the five boroughs of New York City and must be 501(c)(3) 170b non-profit organizations and incorporated for the purpose of feeding the ill, needy or infants. The food pantries and soup kitchens might be housed in religious institutions, senior centers, day care centers and community centers. They must provide the food free of charge to those who need it and can not have any other obligation associated with the distribution. At least one current staff member or a volunteer must be ServSafe certified, which means they must have a certificate in food protection so that no food borne illness or dangerous bacteria is ever transmitted.

But, what’s the connection then between the cheese doodle and the five-star chef?

The chefs associated with City Harvest aren’t just food donors. They also take part by volunteering to teach low income women, men and children how to eat better and healthier on a limited budget. As chef volunteers, they have the opportunity to affect change in one person at a time. In fact, young children at a recent Fruit Bowl class were asked “What is this?” by the City Harvest chef. Many kids responded with the answer “a cheese doodle.” A perfect teaching opportunity was created. The right answer was of course, a baby carrot, but it took several tastes and several lessons before the children knew and liked snacking on carrots. Last year 600 children participated in Fruit Bowl.

Several other opportunities included a Puerto Rican Family Institute Kids Up Front class where kids donned chef’s hats and learned to prepare traditional Latino cuisine with a healthier twist, a Side by Side class for mothers and their children at a domestic violence women’s shelter, where they learned to prepare dishes like make-your-own-healthy-pizza and pasta primavera, and a Power of Eating Right class at the Melrose Classic Community Center in the Bronx where teen participants were scouring nutrition labels and running calculations to understand the basics of healthy eating.

Most longstanding friendships are based on loyalty, mutual respect and a willingness to go the distance. These are the qualities that embody the partnership between many of New York City’s valued chefs and restaurants and City Harvest. Their involvement continues to help solidify the trust that they and many dedicated financial donors have in knowing that the City Harvest family will continue to serve the 1.6 million women, men and children who live below the poverty line in one of the richest cities in the world.

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