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Op-ed | Support needed to help combat Bronx’s food desert

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A food drive
File photo/Dean Moses

As we quickly approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season and families prepare to enjoy feasts with one another, we must remember that there are thousands of people in the Bronx and across New York City who won’t be having that same experience, and do not know where their next meal is coming from.

The Bronx is one of the many food deserts around the country, with some of the highest rates of food insecurity nationwide; one in four Bronx residents face food insecurity, which is 1.7 times greater than the state average, according to a United Hospital Fund and Boston Consulting Group December 2021 report.

Coupled with the rise in housing costs and inflation, many Bronx families are struggling to make ends meet – and having to choose between paying for food or rent is a position no human being should be in. Local community centers and food pantries that understand residents’ needs are key to addressing this critical issue, but it’s crucial that we have the support of our city’s leaders and New Yorkers to combat food insecurity throughout the year.

In the heart of the Bronx, New Settlement’s rooftop garden sits atop our Community Center and serves as an oasis for community members, growing fresh produce that are rich in nutrients, including mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard, various herbs, carrots, broccoli, and more. This season, we have harvested 160 pounds of fruits and vegetables, which help to supply our food pantry that is located a few floors below and also supported by other local organizations.

Through our food pantry, we’ve distributed more than 123,563 pounds of food through weekly giveaways and monthly and holiday pop-up events in 2022 so far, providing 8,000 individuals with nutritious foods. Recently, we hosted a Thanksgiving Community Giveaway in partnership with New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, New York State Senator Luis Sepulveda, NYC Council Members Althea Stevens and Pierina Sanchez, Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, Ponce Bank and United Way, where we distributed whole chickens, fresh produce and more food items to over 400 community members.

Additionally, our 170 Farm Stand located on 170th Street and Townsend Avenue is a vibrant youth-led market that offers a selection of high quality and fresh seasonal food from local farmers, such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, dry goods, and more.

These initiatives are part of New Settlement’s mission to fight the hunger crisis in the Bronx, and provide a space where community members can not only gain access to affordable, quality foods that will feed their families, but also learn about nutrition and how to prepare balanced meals, ultimately helping them to lead healthy lifestyles.

While we have made great strides to address the hunger epidemic in the Bronx, there is much more work to be done, and before we gather around our tables with our loved ones this holiday season, it is vital that we come together to help our fellow New Yorkers who are experiencing food insecurity.

Whether you are donating to New Settlement’s food pantry or volunteering at a local food drive, we encourage all New Yorkers to join our efforts and help to ensure individuals and families never have to question how or when they are going to eat.

Noel is the executive director of New Settlement; Cataquet is the organization’s director of community health initiatives.

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