DINNERS AND LOSERS

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Demand at New York City food pantries and soup kitchens is rising at a record rate–more than twice the national average–and supply can’t keep pace. The result, says a new report from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, is that tens of thousands are sent home without food.

During 1998, emergency food providers across the country saw a 14 percent increase in the number of people lining up for help, according to a national survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. New York City declined to respond to that study, but the hunger coalition’s annual survey found that New York’s demand rose 36 percent over the same period, the highest increase in the seven years the coalition has been keeping track.

The results aren’t surprising, said Nicole Woo, the coalition’s associate director. “We were looking for [the increase],” she said. “We would have been surprised if it was the other way, unfortunately, because of the stories we’ve been hearing.” Nearly half of the about 330 providers who answered the survey said that city’s 14 “job centers” (the newly-renamed neighborhood welfare offices) had been referring hungry clients to their soup kitchens or food pantries.

Programs haven’t been able to keep up with the influx. The coalition estimates that soup kitchens and food pantries had to turn away 74,000 people last year, including 44,000 children. “We can’t physically accommodate the volume. We don’t have enough space; we don’t have enough volunteers,” said Patty Short, who runs the St. Augustine Helping Hands Food Pantry. Over the weekend, the Park Slope pantry began turning away needy Brooklynites who live outside the three neighboring zip codes. Short said demand rose from about 800 customers a month in 1998 to 1,200 in recent months.