Raising Food Insecurity Awareness for NYC Seniors

The Aging in New York Fund — the fundraising arm that supports the NYC Department for the Aging — held its third food insecurity symposium, “New York City Seniors and The Rising Food Insecurity Crisis,” in partnership with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation on February 23.

Leaders from Brooklyn-wide Interagency Council on Aging, Community News Group, Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, Citymeals-on-Wheels, City Harvest and United Neighborhood Houses discussed innovative methods to raise awareness on food insecurity and specific ways their organizations are making positive changes in the Brooklyn community.

Caryn Resnick, Executive Director, Aging in New York Fund and Deputy Commissioner for the New York City Department for the Aging, kicked off the discussion with gratitude, “The Aging in New York Fund and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation are so thankful for these panelists and community members working together to create a food insecurity solution for New York City seniors.”

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation is the nation’s first community development corporation. It partners with community members and local businesses to improve the quality of life in Central Brooklyn. Forum moderator, Tracey Capers, Executive Vice President, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, commented on how imperative it is to work collaboratively on ways to reduce food insecurity in New York City.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, the Economic Insecurity Rate of elderly households in Bronx and Kings Counties is 77 percent — the highest in New York State. Many senior citizens are unaware of the food benefits offered, such as SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formally known as food stamps. To increase awareness, the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation had SNAP representatives on hand to prescreen individuals after the discussion.

“Elders are leaving approximately $3,700 in food support on the table,” explained Maria Alvarez, Executive Director, Brooklyn-wide Interagency Council on Aging and New York StateWide Senior Action Council. “Our mission is to increase the amount of food insecurity information, and decrease cultural barriers to bring awareness to these extremely helpful benefits.”

Jose Luis Sanchez, Program Manager, Citymeals-on-Wheels, explained how his organization is working with innovative community partners to deliver meals to homebound seniors. “We’ve established a network of compassionate individuals, corporate and community group volunteers to deliver weekend, holiday and emergency meals to our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Food insecurity is clearly associated with poor health, greater medical issues and a higher mortality rate. City Harvest is raising awareness through nutrition and culinary education classes. “Despite popular belief, we’ve found elder people to be really open to discussing healthy food options and trying new things,” mentioned Maggie Meehan, Associate Director, City Harvest.

One of the biggest drivers of change comes from within the community. United Neighborhood Houses is using senior volunteers to get the word out and plan their own healthy food initiatives. “If you can tap into the passion and interests of older adults, amazing things happen,” noted Terry Kaelber, Director, Community Engagement Projects, United Neighborhood Houses of New York. “Seniors want to increase access to food in the community.”

David Mahder, Chairman, Board of Directors, Aging in New York Fund and Vice President, Marketing and Communications, EmblemHealth, closed the symposium with, “To solve the food insecurity issue it first takes awareness, followed by advocacy; something all these organizations are doing.”

To learn more on food insecurity visit, Aging in New York Fund and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.