Cuts lead to busy holiday season for soup kitchens

 

The Grace Church Community Center in White Plains, which serves a weekday hot meal, expects to see an influx of visitors if future cuts are made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Grace Church Community Center in White Plains, which serves a weekday hot meal, expects to see an influx of visitors if future cuts are made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

By KATIE HOOS

Soup kitchens in Westchester County, which were stretched thin even before recent governmental funding cuts, are now seeing an increased number of visitors looking to make ends meet.

Roughly $5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, coupled with the rising cost of food, has led to additional demand for area soup kitchens to serve even more meals as future cuts further threaten food stamp beneficiaries.

Grace Church Community Center, a White Plains-based organization that provides a variety of social services to the needy including emergency shelters, recovery programs, and food assistance, operates a weekday soup kitchen to assist the hungry. The free mid-morning meal typically feeds between 80 and 120 individuals each day and, according to Emily Gallagher, the center’s coordinator for volunteers and community relations, the majority of visitors are Hispanic male day laborers, low-income seniors and the long-term unemployed.

Today, the center continues to see a growing population of hungry people.

Gallagher estimates a large population of Grace Church soup kitchen visitors receive SNAP assistance and said the cuts not only limit the amount of food benefactors can purchase using their benefits, but the type of food as well, forcing recipients to buy less healthy options in an attempt to save money.

Organizations like soup kitchens and food pantries then have to step in to provide additional balanced meals to the community.

Anthony, last name withheld, is a Tarrytown resident who has frequented the Grace Church Community Center soup kitchen for three years. He said he liked the small roots feel of the organization and how the soup kitchen successfully provides a supplement to his weekly meals. Without the help of Grace Church, Anthony said he would have to go without a meal or two.

A largely Hispanic male population, as well as low-income seniors and the unemployed, frequent the Grace Church Community Center soup kitchen for meal assistance. Photos/Katie Hoos

A largely Hispanic male population, as well as low-income seniors and the unemployed, frequent the Grace Church Community Center soup kitchen for meal assistance. Photos/Katie Hoos

Milton Ramos, who visits the soup kitchen two to three times a month, said it’s the people who bring him back.

“They treat you like family here,” he said.

Kim Quickel, who is a resident of the Sister Anne Mary Regan Residence, a housing unit for women with chemical dependency in Port Chester, was previously in the shelter system at Grace Church Community Center. She still regularly eats meals at the soup kitchen. A recovering alcoholic, Quickel said she definitely appreciates the soup kitchen and what it has done for her recovery.

“When you’re not doing well, food is very important,” she said.

Quickel is currently six months sober and hopes to regain employment as a nurse once she completes her program.

As much good as organizations like Grace Church Community Center do for the hungry population in Westchester, decreases to SNAP benefits only further hinder their attempt to fight hunger.

According to a March 2013 study conducted by the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless, out of the 961,670 people residing in Westchester County, approximately 36,520 households, or 84,000 people, rely on SNAP. When benefits were cut in November of last year, 11 percent of Westchester residents who were already struggling to put food on the table, felt their purse strings pulled even tighter.

Jeanne Blum is the executive director of the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless, a non-profit organization committed to alleviating hunger and homelessness in the area. She said organizations like Grace Church Community Center feel the pinch when federal money runs out.

“There is a lot of pressure now put on non-profits and volunteer organizations who are trying to pick up the slack where federal programs fall short,” Blum said.

Blum also said people who have previously not needed assistance for meals, including single mothers, homeowners and families experiencing recent unemployment, are now visiting soup kitchens since their SNAP benefits aren’t cutting it anymore.

It goes without saying that we’re just seeing the very beginning of higher attendance at soup kitchens and a higher need for food,” Blum said.
“People are hungry.”

In 2009, the federal government temporarily increased funding by nearly $20 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The main goal of the $787 billion federal stimulus package was to create more jobs and provide temporary relief programs for those hit hardest by the recession, including investing in social welfare programs like SNAP. As a result of the stimulus, recipients receiving the maximum monthly allotted amount saw nearly a 14 percent increase in SNAP benefits.

On Nov. 1, 2013, the stimulus package expired, leaving millions of families and individuals who receive SNAP benefits with less financial support. One study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are 47 million people on food stamps throughout the country and nearly 3.2 million in New York alone. The November cuts decreased SNAP amounts by $11 a month for a single person and $36 a month for a family of four, leaving recipients with $189 a month and $632 a month respectively. The decrease will cause benefit levels to dip lower than they were before the recession.

The nationwide cuts equate to nearly $5 billion a year, representing almost 2 billion fewer meals a year throughout the U.S.

Not only are soup kitchens contending with cuts to SNAP, they also recently faced the annual rise in attendance associated with the holiday season.

The Grace Church center estimates 20 percent of their yearly meals are served on holidays.

Recently, on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, 340 individuals received a hot meal and two to-go meals on-site at Grace Church. The center also delivered 492 hot meals to people throughout Westchester, totaling 1,512 holiday meals.

Since Thanksgiving and Chris-tmas fall at the end of the month, which is often when benefits run out, Paul Anderson-Winchell, executive director of Grace Church Community Center, said soup kitchens and food pantries are seeing more hungry people around the holidays.

“The holiday period is more tied to the economic and benefit cycle,” Anderson-Winchell said. “The cold weather adds to the increase in numbers, too.”

Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle, which operates a weekly soup kitchen on Saturday mornings, has also seen an increase in visitors. Lad’s Lunch, the church’s soup kitchen, serves a hot meal to more than 100 visitors each week. Lad’s Lunch coordinator, Norma Stephenson, said Lad’s has seen an influx, especially during this year’s Thanksgiving meal. In previous years, the soup kitchen would give out Thanksgiving baskets to the hungry, but, due to high demand, they are now preparing and serving the meals.

“We had a tremendous turnout for our second year serving the meal,” Stephenson said.

However, Future SNAP cuts could cripple beneficiaries and soup kitchens even further, as Congress currently negotiates billions of dollars in cuts to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, more commonly known as the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill, whose deadline has been extended to Jan. 31, 2014, is a 5-year piece of legislation handling funding for most federal food and farm policies, including SNAP.

Gallagher said, with the new cuts, new populations of people will need meal assistance from Grace Church. She is expecting to see an influx of the working poor and lower middle class once the new farm bill is passed.

Anderson-Winchell from Grace Church agreed future cuts would bring the soup kitchen more business than they may be able to handle and encouraged those interested in donating to remember that the hungry need assistance year-round, not just around the holidays.

“Cutting the money from folks that can least afford it is just unconscionable,” he said. “It is outrageous that we can’t agree to feed people. This is not where you should be having the political battles.”

Contact: katie@hometwn.com

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DIRECTORY OF WESTCHESTER
COUNTY SOUP KITCHENS

Bethany A.M.E. Church Soup Kitchen

21 Ludlow Street, Yonkers, NY, 10705

Telephone 914-562-6902

 

Bethesda Baptist Church Lad’s Lunch 

71 Lincoln Avenue, New Rochelle, NY, 10801

Telephone 914-636-5732

 

Calvary Baptist Church Soup Kitchen 

188 Orawaupum Street, White Plains, NY, 10602

Telephone 914-948-2875

 

Community Memorial Baptist Church Soup Kitchen 

132 Waverly Street, Yonkers, NY, 10701

Telephone 914-258-9570

 

First Arabic Baptist Church Pantry/Kitchen

98 Waverly Street, Yonkers, NY, 10701

Telephone 914-376-9784

 

First Assembly of God Church/Love
in Action Soup Kitchen

165 Union Avenue, New Rochelle, NY, 10801

Telephone 914-632-0031

 

First Reformed Church Food Pantry/Kitchen 

135 South 6th Avenue, Mount Vernon, NY, 10550

Telephone 914-260-9685

 

Grace Church Community Center 

33 Church Street, White Plains, NY, 10601

Telephone 914-949-3098

 

Greyston Health Services

23 Park Avenue, Yonkers, NY, 10701

Telephone 914-376-3903

 

Loaves and Fish

Trinity Episcopal Church, Ossining, NY, 10562

Telephone 914-941-0806

 

Mount Hope Table of Grace 

65 Lake Street, White Plains, NY, 10604

Telephone 914-948-6372

 

Pressley Memorial Church Food Pantry/ Kitchen 

38 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers, NY, 10701

Telephone 212-348-8738

 

Salvation Army Port Chester 

36 Bush Avenue, Port Chester, New York, 10573

Telephone 914-939-5397

 

Seventh Day Adventist Church Food Pantry 

165 Riverdale Avenue, Yonkers, NY, 10701

Telephone 914-968-6587

 

St. Bartholomew’s Church Soup Kitchen 

St. Bartholomew’s Church, White Plains, NY, 10606

Telephone 914-949-5577

 

St. Catherine’s A.M.E. Zion Church
Caring & Sharing Program 

19 Lincoln Avenue, New Rochelle, NY, 10801

Telephone 914-235-0001

 

St. Frances A.M.E Zion Soup Kitchen 

18 Smith Street, Port Chester, NY, 10573

Telephone 914-939-1056

 

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Soup Kitchen 

19 Smith Street, Port Chester, NY, 10573

Telephone 914-939-1244

 

Sunny Donut, CHOP, Inc. 

200 North Water Street, Peekskill, NY 10566

Telephone 914-736-2636

 

The Lord’s Pantry

82 Prospect Street, White Plains, NY, 10605

Telephone 914-949-5577

 

The Salvation Army Food Pantry 

22 Church Street, New Rochelle, NY, 10801

Telephone 914-632-5255

 

The Salvation Army
Food Pantry/ Kitchen 

117 Nelson Avenue, Peekskill, NY, 10566

Telephone 914-737-0280

 

The Sharing Community 

1 Hudson Street, Yonkers, NY, 10701

Telephone 914-963-2626 ext. 222

 

Trinity United Methodist Church Soup Kitchen 

130 S. Lexington Avenue, White Plains, NY, 10606

Telephone 914-216-4308

 

Union Baptist Church Soup Kitchen 

31 Manhattan Avenue, White Plains, NY, 10607

Telephone 914-948-6439

 

Yonkers Family YMCA 

17 Riverdale Avenue, Yonkers, New York, 10701

Telephone 914-963-0183