As someone who has lived in New York all my life, I thought I’d seen everything—until I saw Sandy. It was shocking; this one literally hit home. In the low-lying areas and coastal communities, our subways, homes, and most importantly, our people, were no match for this superstorm. While many of us were able to get back to our normal lives within a week or two, regular life wasn’t so easily resumed for thousands of our neighbors. Many found themselves vulnerable for the first times in their lives. Forty thousand people were made homeless. Thousands more became unemployed. And many joined the 1.5 million New Yorkers who already rely on Food Bank For New York City’s programs and services citywide.
Even before Sandy hit, the Food Bank began to prepare. The staff at their Community Kitchen & Food Pantry in Harlem had prepacked emergency pantry bags filled with enough food for four days. On the day of the storm, they handed them out to anyone who came through the door. As Sandy continued to rip through the city, the Food Bank went into disaster response mode. Semitrailers hit the road immediately, making food deliveries. Mobile pantries were sent out to bring food to the hardest-hit communities. More than 3,000 volunteers were mobilized to lend a hand and 4.9 million pounds of food were distributed.
While many of the network’s soup kitchens and food pantries remained open, others were severely damaged. As a result, the Food Bank reached out to churches, schools, and other organizations to act as on-the-ground partners who had the ability to accept deliveries and get food to affected areas.
Making sure that New Yorkers had food was the Food Bank’s immediate priority, but it was just the beginning. The storm hit at the worst possible time: the end of the month. That’s when food stamp benefits run out and people have a harder time affording groceries. The Food Bank recognized that people may have lost the food they already purchased due to flooding or power outages, so they established a hotline with instructions on how to access replacement food stamps.
Hurricane Sandy is gone, but its toll will be felt on our city for a long time to come. Anyone who has seen the destruction in places like Coney Island, Far Rockaway, and Staten Island understands the challenges New Yorkers are facing, but we’ll get through this. New Yorkers have a tradition of banding together in a crisis, and I feel fortunate that the city has the Food Bank to lean on. As a board member for the past six years, I’ve seen the dedication, commitment, and impact of this organization firsthand. They have made a commitment to our communities to be there every step of the way—and they will be for as long as it takes.