Paule T. Pachter
Chief Executive Officer
THE NUMBERS OF FOOD INSECURE LONG ISLANDERS BEGIN TO DECLINE AFTER 18 MONTHS OF LONG ISLAND CARES RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
After 18-months of responding to the increase in need for emergency food assistance brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, loss of jobs and underemployment, Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank and its 329 member agencies are seeing a reduction in the number of Long Islanders struggling with food insecurity. Between March of 2020 and 2021, Long Island Cares provided food assistance to an additional 287,481 people struggling to put food on their tables and feed their families. These numbers were in addition to the 259,000 people already known to the Long Island Cares hunger network and represent a 54.8% increase in need throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties. During the first year of COVID-19, The Harry Chapin Food Bank delivered 18,957,519 pounds of food to individuals and our member agencies.
Over the past six-months the regional food bank and many of our member agencies have seen a decrease in the number of people visiting our community food pantries, as well as a decrease in the amount of people visiting Long Island Cares’ satellite locations. This reduction in need can be accounted for as people return to work, find new jobs, gain access to increased government assistance to help pay their rent, and receive COVID vaccinations.
The most recent Feeding America “Map the Meal Gap” report released in August identified a total of 204,030 Long Islanders as meeting the criteria for food insecurity and receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as compared to 250,830 in 2020. On their own, these figures describe an 18.7% reduction in food insecurity in the Long Island region. However, based upon our historical data we also know that 40% of all visitors to our local pantries do not receive SNAP assistance but must be factored into our data. As a result, we need to add 81,612 people to the 2021 Map the Meal Gap figures to arrive at a final food insecurity number of 285,642, which represents a 26% increase over 2019 but, a decrease of 18.7% or 65,520 people in comparison to 2020 figures.
To validate our findings further, Long Island Cares analyzed the number of visits to our satellite locations in Freeport, Lindenhurst, Huntington Station, Hampton Bays and Bethpage to see if we could identify a correlation between the data for 2020-2021. Through our analysis, we noted a decrease in visits by 7,439 people or an 18.1% overall decrease. While the number of food insecure Long Islanders is on the decline, we’re also seeing a decline in our food distribution data, which when compared to 2020 is down by 5.0% or just 346,400 pounds of food being delivered to our network. This data also supports our findings. Lastly, we are seeing an 11.2% decrease in our procurement of food. The regional foodbank has brought in 755,038 pounds of product between 2020 and 2021.
There are several factors that have contributed to the decline. Our 329 community-based agencies have done an outstanding job increasing their fundraising income and have sponsored several incredibly successful virtual fundraising events. Many of them expanded their profiles by collaborating with concerned community stakeholders while others procured additional food through relationships with local markets, groceries and restaurants. Long Island Cares supplemented these accomplishments by providing nearly $500,000 in grants to our member agencies to support their operations during the first twelve months of the pandemic.
Although 285,642 people struggling to put food on their tables to feed their families and their pets is a large number, it’s far better than the 480,000 who turned to us at the height of the pandemic for emergency food assistance. It also means that the emergency food network is more manageable, providing us with an opportunity to better collaborate on regional planning, advocacy and shared staff development opportunities. We must also recognize the critical support provided to food banks by the federal government, New York State government, Nassau and Suffolk County, local municipalities, and from our corporate and individual donors.