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Increasing Food Access for Hungry New Yorkers By Reducing Food Waste

Creating new supply chains through the centralization of food surpluses and the prevention of food waste through food rescue.

Photo of Christine Simpson-Mensah
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Food Bank For New York City

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New York City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

New York City, a city in the United States, covers a total area of 784 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Food Bank For New York City is the premiere hunger-relief organization serving New Yorkers across the five boroughs since 1983. During this time we have built a network of nearly 1,000 charities across the City that serve low-income communities in 90% of the City’s zip codes. New York City is our base and the hunger problems in the City are the reason for our existence. Every year we serve approximately 1.4 million New Yorkers through our network of emergency food programs, including food pantries and soup kitchens, schools and other community-based organizations.

In addition to our network of services, Food Bank is a leader of the SNAP Task Force, engages and promotes hunger relief advocacy develops research. We develop evidence-based research publications and tools for community organizations and policymakers that inform their decision-making around anti-hunger policy and grassroots activities that empower community members.

Based on research developed by Feeding America, we created the Meal Gap Map. This tool quantifies meals missing from the homes of those struggling to put food on the table. Our map depicts food insecurity by borough and community district where meal gap levels persist. The number of meals vulnerable New Yorkers are missing due to lack of sufficient resources tops 208 million.

In FY19, we distributed 58 million meals to New Yorkers across the five boroughs. A sizeable portion of the fruits and vegetables distributed came by way of food donations from local and national food markets and vendors, as well as regional and state farmers.

To address New York City’s hunger crisis, Food Bank has embarked on an ambitious strategic plan to reduce the meal gap called “Feed the Need.” The plan brings to bear our expertise and diverse network toward directly and intentionally achieving a collective impact in the anti-hunger sphere. Our vision for 2050 is a central part of this plan to eradicate hunger in our city.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world, robustly full or culture, a place where over 800 languages are spoken and nearly every ethnic and racial group represented from all four corners of the globe. This is one of the few places in the world where you can taste food from Hebei, China’s smallest city while listening to Kung music from Africa’s oldest tribe. Within New York City, the five boroughs (Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island) serve as new tribes, with their own style, culture, vernacular and way of life. The Bronx, known for its green space and botanical gardens looks and feels different from Wall Street with its high rises in downtown Manhattan, or Brooklyn with its sounds and smells from mostly Caribbean and Latin American immigrant communities juxtapose newcomers from the Midwest or suburban east coast.

There is a saying that ‘if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere’ and there lies the struggle. In a city full of so much diversity, not making it, which for too many manifests itself in the form of hunger, is the tie of commonality that binds many low-income New Yorkers. One in eight New Yorkers are food insecure. In neighborhoods, many with no supermarket in sight, corner stores, and landlocked housing projects with few green spaces reign supreme. These neighborhoods are usually made up of Black and Latino New Yorkers, who in addition to having less access to fresh produce where they live, have increased access to fast food. Some communities have made an effort to create community gardens and co-ops, but due to a lack of resources and space, they are unable to adequately support the nutritional needs of their communities. The effects of poor nutrition in addition to other environmental causes have led to higher rates of heart disease and diabetes in both populations. These are largely diet-related diseases that can be improved or prevented altogether with a proper diet, stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many of these families we serve are working poor or navigating unemployment, for them, Food Bank’s services are a gateway to achieving stability.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In recent years, we have seen the economic gaps widen between haves and the have nots, with this has come an enormous meal gap among New Yorkers that is only widening. Twenty years ago our emergency food program truly served as just that; however, in 2020, the meal gap has become a chasm and our emergency distribution a staple for many New Yorkers who depend on it for all three daily meals.

In our current fight against food waste, the biggest challenge is financing the truck maintenance, fuel and staff costs associated with implementing a produce pick-up system. With this, we are also challenged by policies, technology and food culture in communities of need. The structural and environmental landscape of these communities are the result of policies that have exacerbated poor living conditions for disenfranchised people. In 2020, the newest public charge policy recently signed into law by the current presidential administration is expected to increase the number of New Yorkers who will be dependent on food distributions. With the current and impending influx of hungry New Yorkers turning down SNAP benefits in fear of it jeopardizing their immigration status, now more than ever we must create additional channels in Food Bank’s food supply chain.

The technological challenges we face are related to the lack of streamlined technology across our network. This is a reflection of the fact that many of the organizations within our network operate on a budget of $25,000 or less annually, with a huge number of member pantries almost solely run by volunteers. Because of this, our members struggle to consistently provide their communities with fresh produce on their own.

Black and Latino populations, in particular, are plagued by more diet-related ailments than any other group in the City. This is largely caused by the environment, though New York City is greatly diverse, it is also largely segregated by race, ethnicity, and class. Black and Latino New Yorkers are more likely to live closer to polluted areas, further away from green spaces, have easier access to inexpensive fast food and less access to supermarkets with affordable, fresh produce.

By 2050 the challenges we face with feeding hungry New Yorkers are expected to grow exponentially as the income and racial wealth gaps are expected to further widen. Evidence of this is also reflected in the expected end of social security benefits by the year 2035, this will leave thousands of elderly New Yorkers across the City without a primary source of income. The group that will be the largest hit by this reality is the African American community, whose wealth is expected to hit zero by 2053. With this array of rising economic problems that will impact the lives of many New Yorkers, Food Bank For NYC will need to be prepared for pervasive food insecurity. With nearly half of the food grown being left for landfills, there is a great opportunity to maximize food access within the most impoverished communities.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision for hunger and food waste eradication stands in the face of the environmental, economic, dietary, cultural, technological and policy-based challenges that have directly impacted the lives of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. The development of food hubs will increase community access to fresh produce and rather than working through the current system of food access, this plan creates a bridge over the system, taking the food directly from the farmer to the tables of needy New Yorkers. When people know with certainty that they will be feed, they are empowered to work through other aspects of their lives. Our network will be positively affected in the same way, our proposed system solves the fresh produce shortage problem many of the pantries within our network face.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Food Bank For NYC is on a mission to create a better New York where hunger is no longer a tie that binds our communities. In this new city, residents don’t have to choose between paying the rent or putting food on the table.

Corner stores have completely revamped from selling cold cuts, potato chips, and soda, and now are marketing and predominantly selling fresh produce to keep up with the cultural shift that has taken place in their communities. Obesity has reduced dramatically and high blood pressure, cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes rates are at an all-time low. Mortality rates are also at an all-time low. No child goes to school hungry and student grades across the spectrum in low-income communities have increased dramatically. With the physical impacts of healthy eating have come positive psychological impacts, disciplinary action is down in schools across the City and crime in the City has reduced considerably.

Our network of food providers, are operationally equipped to support community needs and have expanded their work across every inch of the City, because of this, Food Bank and our food providers have become a normal part of New Yorkers’ everyday lives and any stigmas associated with receiving food distributions are obsolete.

Food Bank For NYC ‘s food system stretches across every borough, where food hubs are found and full of produce, people and the hubs are constantly finding ways to expand. With healthier, empowered communities, residents have the confidence and the clarity to address lingering environmental problems where they live related to water and air quality and other pollutants.

In New York, Food Bank and other entities are creating white papers on the city’s hunger and food waste transformation and outlining a blueprint for other cities to follow around the globe to improve the lives of its citizenry.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Food Bank For New York City envisions a New York free of hunger or food waste, to achieve this we want to redirect unsold fresh produce that many times ends up in landfills, to the hungriest New Yorkers in the hungriest communities across the City. Through our partnership with GrowNYC, a network of farmers and food vendors across the state, we will redefine how food surpluses are handled through a multi-dimensional and multi-layered approach that includes systemized food surplus pickups and redistribution, technical and logistical support of temporary food hubs at partnering farms and Food Bank’s long-term plan to build food hubs around the City that will serve as major storage facilities for food surpluses from around the state. This plan provides a state-wide approach to New York City’s problem and will only be accomplished through a comprehensive, tiered programmatic structure, in the first year starting with the support of one temporary food hub at a partnering farm and food surplus pickups by our warehouse team and volunteers. Over time our plan will grow to include additional farming partners who have the infrastructure to house food surpluses from their own farms and other farmers in the area. Once the supply chain and supporting systems are developed, we will begin planning the development of Food Bank food hubs, starting with one and expanding to additional hubs around the City. These hubs will collect food surpluses from farmers and food vendors throughout the state and will support the expansion of our pop-up distributions into additional communities with high need.

This tiered approach to eradicating hunger and food waste will feed directly into Green Sidewalk, our pop-up distribution program that helps food pantries within our network, with limited capacity, safely distribute fresh produce through weekly pop-up distribution events on sidewalks in front of their site. Currently through this program ten pallets of produce, equivalent to 8,300 meals, are delivered to each site for weekly pop-up distribution events. Food Bank developed this method for delivering more fresh produce in response to the voices of our network and the communities we serve. Most of our pop-up distributions are located in food deserts where access to healthy produce is scarce yet chronic medical issues, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease, are prevalent. We are undergoing an operational expansion to meet the needs of pantries in our network that have shown interest in participating in Green Sidewalk, and are increasing our focus on providing a greater variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. To ensure that we continue to target neighborhoods in the highest meal gap areas, we will use GIS mapping technology to target the City’s highest meal gap areas for Green Sidewalk distributions.

In a time when 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure, nearly 40% of the produce harvested never makes it to market and ends up in landfills. In addition to the more than 40 billion meals lost to hungry Americans every year, food spoilage in landfills creates methane gas, a toxin that pollutes the air and is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Market access and transportation are the two biggest reasons for this. For farmers in upstate New York, the time money and travel are required to sell food surpluses in New York City and barriers have prevented natural synergies between food supply, demand, and access. Through this project, we will improve the food value chain increasing access to fresh produce for poor New Yorkers which will impact the culture of how and what they eat, and reduce food waste and vehicle emissions by reducing the travel time of farmers embarking on multiple trips to New York City in hopes of selling food surpluses.

Our vision is a future where hunger is a thing of the past because as a City, we have maximized the resources at our disposal, eliminating waste by redirecting food surpluses that now litter landfills to the dinner tables of hungry New Yorkers.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


Join the conversation:

Photo of charles hage

Hi Christine,
Can you help me understand a bit more about your vision? The central idea seems to be that food hubs around the city will store surplus food from around the state. Can you say how well the volume, variety and timing of NYS surpluses will meet the needs of NYC? Any data on that? Thanks.

Photo of Christine Simpson-Mensah

Thank you for your question Chuck, I will respond shortly.

Photo of Christine Simpson-Mensah

Thank you for your question Chuck, I will respond shortly.

Photo of charles hage

Hi Christine,
If you want to wait until semi-finalists are announced, that's fine with me.