More than 150,000 people in the metropolitan area will have fresh food for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur thanks to efforts by the Met Council and their suppliers from numerous food distribution organizations around the city.
The food distribution, the largest Kosher food pantry in the country, has spread its wings to 101 distribution points as it’s become even more important now as many people are struggling economically due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has left many people unemployed and barely able to make their rent, let alone feeding their families, officials say.
The Met Council is also delivering food to Holocaust survivors and home-bound elderly who have been sheltering in place to avoid the coronavirus contagion.
David Greenfield, executive director of the Met Council, said they have expanded to 101 distribution points as demand for basic food has gone into “triple digits,” especially during the Jewish holidays.
“People forget that unfortunately, New York is not just devastated financially with more unemployment than anywhere else in the country and that unemployment will run out, and folks are hurting,” Greenfield said. “Our crisis hotline is now getting 2000 calls a month – people’s credit cards are maxed, they can’t pay bills – people are struggling in a way we haven’t seen before. We are grateful we can step up and be helpful under challenging circumstances.”
The Met Council has been under siege of late as millions of Americans are now out of work, many of whom live in New York City. The program has stepped up deliveries and pickups during the COVID-19 crisis and has made special packages for holidays like this and in the past for Passover. While the state has stepped up with funding, Met and other food programs continue to seek funding to make sure residents are well nourished.
Greenfield emphasized that one in five New Yorkers are unemployed and they have seen a 40 percent increase in the number of requests for basic food necessities.
“Seniors have been struggling for years, but this year, people who have never come before have been coming – we’ve never seen this before,” Greenfield said. “We have a variety of distributions including home delivery – especially for seniors afraid to go out because of COVID. In the past, it was about supplementing, but now, it is a primary source of food – and for the holiday, we have chicken, fish, pasta, bread – we did 200,000 containers of honey alone.”
One of those food distribution sites on Preston Court in Flatbush was bustling as beleaguered residents lined up for a package of food. Others came to pick up for seniors centers where some locations distribute to scores of elderly.
Jessica Chait, managing director of food distribution for Met Council, showed off the warehouse where food was stacked 10 feet high and moved by forklifts. As she showed off the pantry, trucks from City Harvest and the NYC Food Bank arrived with pallets of food destined for families throughout the city.
“COVID has really put a tremendous strain on so many families – New York City’s unemployment is higher than we’ve seen in almost a decade if not more, and these items can really go to support families throughout the city,” Chait said. “We are now distributing more than three times as much food, serving three times as many families.”
Miriam Cohen, a volunteer with Met Council for about a year, helped seniors who were lined up to receive food.
“I’m working here for a year as a volunteer because people need food,” Cohen said. “I want to be helping my community, making sure people are getting food in hard times – and it really helps.”