Well, here we are at Thanksgiving, beginning of the “Hunger Season.” That’s the period between mid-November and the New Year when many New Yorkers volunteer time and donate money to alleviate hunger. It’s a time when people remember (or are reminded) that many of their neighbors don’t have enough food many days of the year, and respond with generosity and compassion.
Unfortunately, if the U.S. Congress continues on its current path, that generosity will not come near to meeting the need in our city. Senate Agriculture Committee Democrats already agreed to $4 billion in cuts to the food stamp program, SNAP, and now are “discussing” $10 billion. Of course, for House Republicans that isn’t nearly enough; their reckless “poor people are lazy and shiftless criminals” rhetoric and attitude has led them to propose $40 billion in cuts. It’s hard to find the right words – that are printable – to characterize this kind of disgraceful and inhuman action.
A bright spot in the dismal national picture is the recent election of a progressive mayor for New York City. Bill de Blasio campaigned on a no-nonsense platform that recognized the blatant inequality in New York City. In recent years there has been much focus on billionaires and others in the 1 percent but not much attention to the plight and needs of the 99 percent, especially the nearly 2 million New Yorkers who live below or just above the poverty level.
The federal food assistance programs, especially food stamps and the Child Nutrition Programs, have been the bulwark against terrible misery and want for so many. Over the past five decades advocates waged successful battles for School Breakfast and Lunch, Summer Meals, and the WIC Program (supplemental nutrition for pregnant women, infants and young children. When Mayor de Blasio succeeds in establishing universal pre-kindergarten, funds will be available to make sure these young children receive nutritious meals daily.
In addition, 90 organizations have joined together as partners in the Lunch 4 Learning Campaign for free and healthy school lunch for all New York City public school students—by eliminating the poverty stigma associated with school lunch. This would mean, over time, that 120,000 more youngsters would eat healthy, nutritious meals each school day. We are optimistic that the new administration will make Universal School Meals a reality for all students citywide.
So, between bites of turkey or cranberry sauce or salad, call your senators and Congressional representatives and urge them to stop cutting these vital food programs. And sign the petition at lunch4learningnyc.org to volunteer and learn more.