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Natural Awakenings New York City

Volunteers Needed to Help Food-Insecure New Yorkers

Even before the pandemic, food insecurity was a constant concern in New York City. Some 250,000 public school students depended on free lunches, and 1.8 million New Yorkers qualified for public food assistance. Now one in four New Yorkers is in danger of going hungry, and New York Cares is looking for volunteers to help get them the food they need.

Demand from soup kitchens and pantries has more than doubled since March, and the volunteer labor required for soup kitchens and pantries has practically disappeared, says Heather McGreevy, director of Immediate Needs and Public Spaces for New York Cares. In addition, a third of food pantries have closed due to safety concerns, as high-poverty districts are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

“Emergency food providers need volunteers now more than ever,” McGreevy says. “Before COVID-19, volunteers outnumbered staff five to one on average. Providers are currently seeing up to 10 times the number of clients. There’s no way they can operate at this scale without additional support.”

Volunteers also help ensure dignity in service, she says. “Packing a pantry bag quicker might not seem like a big deal, but when it results in someone waiting outside in the heat for less time, it matters.”

New York Cares partners with around 1,000 human service organizations and public schools, harnessing the passion of New Yorkers to give back to their communities. Every year it recruits, trains, and deploys some 50,000 volunteers to serve more than half a million individuals in need. In 32 years, New York Cares has delivered six million hours of community service to the city. 

Since its COVID-19 relief efforts began a month ago, more than 8,500 volunteers have devoted approximately 25,000 hours to more than 1,200 projects, McGreevy says. In total, more than 800,000 meals have been distributed to New Yorkers in need. In April, its volunteers served 305,253 meals, compared to 72,733 meals in April 2019.

McGreevy says the majority of her team is now working to create and support hunger programming, and they expect to continue that work for months to come. 

“New York Cares will be there to empower connection, provide comfort and ensure that all New Yorkers eat, no matter what,” she says. “Individuals who are looking for opportunities to help during this time can sign up with New York Cares or donate to our relief fund.”

To volunteer or donate, visit NewYorkCares.org.