Home Restaurant Photo Essay: How Nourish New York Is Still Feeding NYC

Photo Essay: How Nourish New York Is Still Feeding NYC


At the onset of the pandemic, New York farmers were dumping their crops even as supermarket shelves went empty and pantry lines swelled. To respond to the distribution crisis, the state created Nourish New York, an emergency program to connect small farmers to food pantries. The program was successful in bringing fresh food to neighborhoods where it was historically lacking and giving farmers access to new distribution networks. However, then-governor Andrew Cuomo never intended for the program to be permanent, and it lapsed after only six months.

Seeing how important it was for their communities, state Senator Michelle Hinchey (D-Kingston) and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) authored a bill that would make Nourish permanent. It passed the state senate with unanimous bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul in November 2021.

The program faced immediate pressure as the Omicron variant and rising inflation complicated the picture. Within weeks, New York became the epicenter of the pandemic for a second time, leading to more devastating job losses. At the same time, inflation was on the rise, reaching 7.5 percent in January. New Yorkers saw increased price tags at the grocery store as meat and dairy products were hit particularly hard, with prices increasing 16 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

A USPS postal worker leaves the line at the CoPO pantry. The price of fuel oil increased by 43.6 percent over the past 12 months, while food rose 7.9 percent. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, prices for food are expected to continue to rapidly climb.

“Way more people are affected by the economic recession that resulted from [the pandemic], which really takes a toll on how they can feed themselves,” said Alexander Rapaport, CEO and executive director of the kosher Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, which operates three pantries across New York City.

Amidst all these challenges, Nourish has again stepped in to support New York farmers and enable food pantries to continue feeding those who can least afford high-quality foods that are highly impacted by inflation and price gouging. Since being signed into law, Nourish’s budget has doubled to $50 million, and farmers can now sell some or all of their products to pantries if they choose, Hinchey said.

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Alexander Rapaport inspects the delivery of fresh fish with his head chef, Ruben Diaz.

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Nourish has broadened the availability of ingredients for
diverse cultures. Outside of CoPO on Coney Island Avenue
in Brooklyn, a Jewish man and Muslim woman both came
away with culturally appropriate ingredients.

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Clients of the La Jornada pantry in Flushing, Queens, bring food home on Roosevelt Ave.

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Mohammad Razvi (far right), CEO
of the CoPO pantry in Borough
Park Brooklyn, distributes food
to a Chinese pantry on Coney
Island Avenue. CoPO acts as a
food hub where many pantries
come for food.

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Raul Gonzalez, who served in the 1st Infantry Division of the Army, serves a Masbia client a meal. On Wednesdays and Thursdays Masbia opens its doors and provides dinners for anyone needing a meal. Most recipes use ingredients from Nourish.

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Ruben Diaz holds a ninja radish. The ninja radish is a rare variety originally developed in South Korea. This one was delivered from a farm in the Hudson Valley.

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New York State apples being distributed outside of Agatha House in the Bronx.

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Rafael Morel, Jr., loads New York State kosher dairy products to a storage basement at Masbia.

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A woman gleans the last vegetables at CoPO.

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Clients line up outside of Masbia well into the evening. At the height of the pandemic the pantry operated 24 hours a day. Now doors open at 9AM and close at midnight.

 

Nourish products have also helped avert another crisis, one that was created by the new administration in City Hall. From the beginning, Nourish was supplemented by an emergency city-run program called the Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution Program (P-FRED), which supplied pantries with fresh and shelf-stable food. P-FRED was supposed to continue until the end of June, but on February 28, the food stopped coming without notification, sending pantries throughout the city scrambling.

The city’s Human Resources Administration, which oversees P-FRED, said that the program has not been terminated but is “winding down;” for the pantries that relied on it, it’s been all but terminated. At the height of the pandemic, Masbia’s three locations received 36 truckloads of P-FRED goods each week, Rapaport said; now there are none.

“Imagine just waiting for trucks to arrive and they’re not arriving. There wasn’t a notification. It was shocking, catastrophic,” Rapaport said. In order to feed the 1,500 people in line on February 28, Rapaport turned to the emergency reserves of shelf-stable foods that he stored for blizzards and hurricanes.

Alexander Rapaport inside one of Masbia’s shelf stable food storage rooms. When deliveries from P-FRED stopped coming without notice, Rapaport had to utilize emergency goods he’s been storing for a disaster leaving him at a deficit to respond to future emergencies.

Alexander Rapaport inside one of Masbia’s shelf-stable food storage rooms. When deliveries from P-FRED stopped coming without notice, Rapaport had to utilize emergency goods he’s been storing for a disaster, leaving him at a deficit to respond to future emergencies.

A permanent Nourish means that pantries all throughout New York State can count on a reliable source of food when local programs like P-FRED fail. “Throughout the last year, NY Nourish has been our saving grace. The additional funding through Nourish has been essential for fulfilling the hunger, nutritional, and cultural needs of the community,” said Kelsey Simmons, director of programs at the Council of Peoples Organization (CoPO), a nonprofit community service group that runs a halal pantry.

With Passover rapidly approaching, cultural needs are top of Rapaport’s mind. “[The city] pulled resources right before the holiday. There’s something very wrong to me in that. It’s like pulling the program right before Thanksgiving,” he said. “Nourish will be the backbone of our Passover distribution.” On Passover, tables at Masbia will have New York dairy and grape juice. “If every family gets a nice amount of New York grape juice and New York cheese and yogurt, that’s a beautiful Passover package.”

Since Nourish began, one of its major distributors, City Harvest, has distributed more than a million pounds of beef, chicken, fish, and pork produced by New York farmers. “We’ve gotten high-quality animal protein [through distributors like Baldor Specialty Foods],” said Max Hoffman, associate director, supply chain, at City Harvest. “It’s been incredibly productive for us.”

For the first time, Masbia was able to serve hard-to-find dairy products that meet high kosher standards, Rapaport said. “While most of the time I was focused on stretching every dollar, I also took into consideration that the intention of those dollars was to help small farms,” he said. “Therefore, ordering some local, fancy, organic yogurts or fresh produce was part of the mix.”

After the millions of dollars spent and thousands of mouths fed, it’s ultimately the individual meal recipient who benefits. To better understand those impacts, Civil Eats visited four food pantries to document the ways that Nourish New York is truly nourishing residents.

Jeannette Joseph-Greenaway, executive director of Agatha House Foundation

Jeannette Joseph-Greenaway

Jeannette Joseph-Greenaway

We profiled Jeannette Joseph-Greenaway of the Agatha House pantry at the onset of the pandemic, when food lines had grown dramatically and volunteers risked their lives to feed the hungry. We returned to her pantry in the Wakefield section of the Bronx to see how her clients have benefitted from Nourish.

“Nourish has been very good. People really appreciated the dairy—the milk, and cheese, and the yogurt—that they received. It was a great complement to go with what we were giving out. The price of milk has gone up tremendously. . . . [It was already pricey] back then when we were getting it, and today it’s even more expensive.”





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