Changing the SNAP Budget Could Increase Pressure on Food Banks’ Produce Distribution Programs

Programs like Food Bank for New York City’s Green Sidewalks can sometimes reach up to 2,000 New Yorkers a day.

farmers market new york city

Many small pantries and charitable agencies in these areas want to bring more healthy foods to their communities but often face infrastructure challenges. Photo credit: Patrick Kolts

New Yorkers in some of the city’s most food insecure neighborhoods have increased access to fresh produce these days, thanks in part to efforts like Food Bank For New York City’s Green Sidewalks program.

Many small pantries and charitable agencies in these areas want to bring more healthy foods to their communities but often face infrastructure challenges like limited shelf space, inability to store produce at the right temperature and insufficient means for transporting large amounts of food. Green Sidewalks eliminates some of these roadblocks by making weekly fresh produce deliveries to high-need areas where local partner organizations take over to manage distribution, usually in a farmers market–style format.

Often, low-income individuals and families rely on programs like Green Sidewalks (which isn’t totally unlike City Harvest’s mobile markets) in tandem with SNAP, the government-run nutrition assistance program that provides recipients with electronic benefits that they can use like cash to buy food. Last year, more than 1.6 million New York City residents were enrolled in the program.

Given recent White House budget proposals that will significantly cut SNAP funding, there’s a chance people will become more reliant on food pantries and programs like Green Sidewalks for food.

The White House’s proposal to slash SNAP benefits and replace them with ‘boxes’ of packaged, processed food is a clear indication that this administration has no interest in closing the country’s meal gap, while simultaneously seeking to distract from the planned decrease to the $3 billion in SNAP purchasing relied on by NYC grocers alone,” said Margarette Purvis, CEO of Food Bank for New York City, in a statement. “When programs like SNAP are cut, more families end up in line at soup kitchens and pantries and more local businesses are hurt financially.”

Meeting a need

food bank for new york city green sidewalks

Los Sures, a community-based nonprofit in south Williamsburg, worked with Green Sidewalks for about six months in 2016 and then again last fall. Photo courtesy of Food Bank for New York City.

Green Sidewalks operates in eight-week program cycles, typically selecting new partner agencies and neighborhoods to work with for each two-month period. The program is on hold for the winter but the last program cycle ran through mid-December.

To determine their target neighborhoods, Green Sidewalks uses USDA food insecurity data with the aim of distributing food in areas where it’s needed most. In a program cycle that ran from September through October of 2017, 81 percent of the produce was distributed in the city’s most food insecure neighborhoods, including much of eastern Brooklyn.

During the nonprofit’s most recent fiscal year that ran from July 2016 through June 2017, Green Sidewalks distributed seven million pounds of fresh produce, sometimes reaching more than 2,000 food insecure New Yorkers on a given day. Overall, the highest amount of produce has been delivered to the Bronx, followed by Queens and Brooklyn.

Helping close the meal gap

food bank for new york city green sidewalks

The Green Sidewalks program can sometimes reach up to 2,000 New Yorkers a day.

Los Suresa community-based nonprofit on the South Side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, worked with Green Sidewalks for about six months in 2016 and then again last fall. Through Green Sidewalks, Los Sures was able to give free produce to about 500 families and individuals each Friday morning in a setting where it wasn’t uncommon to see community members line up for fruits and vegetables as early as 5:00 a.m.

“The community was begging us to continue the program and kept calling all spring and summer,” said Robin Sirota-Bassin, director of social services at Los Sures. “We were thrilled when we got the call from Food Bank to do it again from September to October.”

The situation was similar in the Bronx’s Wakefield neighborhood, where community members and food pantry clients lined up early waiting for the produce truck to arrive at Bronx Bethany Community Corporation’s Green Sidewalks distribution site in September and October, says Doreen Rutty, the organization’s food pantry director. There, as at other Green Sidewalks locations, 10 pallets of produce, each containing about 45 cases of fresh food, were distributed to the community each week.

Overall, Bronx Bethany Community Corporation provided free produce to more than 5,000 individuals each month, reaching members of the Bronx’s Wakefield, Baychester, Edenwald, Olinville and Co-op City communities.

At this stage it’s difficult to estimate exactly how changes in the SNAP budget might affect programs like Green Sidewalks, but experts generally anticipate an increased reliance on resources like it. Although markets like these and food banks in general work well in tandem with SNAP, they aren’t intended as a replacement.

You can learn more about Green Sidewalks here or contact Food Bank for NYC ([email protected]) to find if an opportunity exists to bring one of their markets to your neighborhood.