Food Assistance Programs Receive 10 Million Pounds Additional Food, Infrastructure Improvements, Technological Innovation to Help Alleviate Hunger in NYC

Mayor’s Office & Helmsley Charitable Trust Support Citywide Collaboration, Targeting 11 Underserved Neighborhoods 

New York, NY—This fall, a coalition of food distributors and funders working to alleviate hunger in New York City celebrates the progress of a multi-million dollar investment to improve food supply in several underserved New York City neighborhoods.

The New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy and the Helmsley Charitable Trust first convened the city’s major food assistance providers in January 2015 to explore ways to enhance existing coordination and bring new resources to food assistance programs across the city. Through this effort, 10 million pounds of new food will be distributed to over 40 local food programs in 11 underserved neighborhoods annually; an updated data-sharing system is making more comprehensive information available to emergency food providers, supporting improved decision-making and coordination; and a pioneering mobile app that will improve wait times and eliminate language barriers is being piloted at food pantries across the city.

The organizations contributing to the effort include City Harvest, United Way of New York City, Food Bank For New York City, the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the New York State Department of Health-Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP).

The effort comes in response to the fact that 1.37 million New Yorkers were food insecure during 2014, according to statistics from the USDA.

“By investing in high-need neighborhoods and modernizing the systems for how we track food supplies and serve clients, we are working to confront food insecurity with systematic, user-friendly methods unlike anywhere else in the country,” said Barbara Turk, Director of Food Policy in the New York City Mayor’s Office.

“This is a remarkable, collective effort to leverage resources for a common goal: to improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers in need,” said Stephanie Cuskley, CEO of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “With so many partners across the city, this collaboration has already begun to increase food supply in underserved communities, facilitate greater information-sharing and coordination among food suppliers, and ultimately make it easier for those in need to get help.”

Funding to support these efforts includes $4.9 million from the City Council and Mayor’s Office to provide additional food and other resources directly to community-based groups; $9.8 million from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to support investments in infrastructure like on-site storage and refrigeration, and the development of the new shared data and mobile app systems; and $4.5 million in combined food resources from City Harvest and United Way of NYC. Ongoing support for, which is administered by United Way of NYC on behalf of the Policy Committee on NYC Hunger Resources, is provided by HPNAP.  

Supporting the City’s Most Underserved Neighborhoods

Currently, over 1,000 community-based food programs distribute about $130 million worth of food annually, comprising roughly 110 million meals for hungry New Yorkers. Despite this substantial support system, demand for emergency food assistance exceeds the supply of available food, especially among families with children and seniors. Meanwhile, food assistance is provided by many organizations, making it difficult to assess where unmet need is greatest and how those in need are being served.

Over the past two years, these providers identified the most underserved communities, by mapping the unmet need for food assistance in every New York City neighborhood. As of October, 11 high-need neighborhoods are now receiving an infusion of millions of dollars of new food and infrastructure support: East New York, Grand Concourse, Jackson Heights-Elmhurst, Mid-Staten Island, Boro Park/Sunset Park East, Lower East Side, Washington Heights, Flushing, Central Harlem North, Flatbush, and Co-Op City. The investments will bring an additional 10 million pounds of new food annually to these underserved communities, as well as introduce mobile food delivery, new cooling and storage systems, and other supports to improve food access.

In mid-Staten Island, for example, two mobile pantry trucks will reach clients who lack transportation to get to existing pantries on the North Shore.

“These mobile pantries will make 48 stops per month and distribute 350,000 pounds per year, which goes a long way towards fighting hunger in New York's least accessible borough,” said Diane Arneth of Brightpoint Health’s CBO affiliate, Community Health Action Staten Island, an operator of one of these mobile pantries. “New Yorkers in these neighborhoods are experiencing acute need accessing food, and we hope this targeted approach will help turn the tide,” said Arneth.

Moving forward, the coalition of food assistance providers and funders will share information to continue identifying neighborhoods with the highest unmet food needs.

Improved Information-Sharing and Coordinated Support for Food Programs

As of October 31, an updated data-sharing system will integrate operational data from emergency food providers into a centralized system, so that stakeholders can share information on food pantry operating hours, contact information, storage infrastructure, and program type.

“For too long, systems to track how and where emergency food moves have been scattered across multiple organizations, making it difficult to know how effectively they are working,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “As we continue our efforts to help New Yorkers in need, the new data and technology will help food providers serve their clients better and make the whole system more efficient.”

The updated will also dramatically improve funders’ ability to support the capacity needs of local food programs. Food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city receive multiple site visits from funders each year to assess food safety. With the consolidated system, site visitors from five different organizations will gather common information, which will also be shared across peer organizations, reducing the burden on food programs and allowing food assistance providers and funders to more strategically direct staff resources toward building food program capacity. 

“United Way is committed to supporting strong community programs that meet local needs, and we provide a suite of capacity-building services to food assistance programs for that purpose,” said Sheena Wright, President & CEO of United Way of NYC. “The information that we have available with this new system will allow us to make better decisions about which programs need our support and how to set our capacity-building priorities city-wide.”

New Mobile Technology to Make Accessing Food Assistance Easier and More Dignified

This month, a new mobile product, Plentiful, will also launch in beta to provide individuals seeking food assistance with a better, more dignified experience. The new product, with the professional look and feel of consumer apps popular in the retail sector, will allow individuals seeking food assistance to register and check in at food pantries using their phones, significantly reducing wait times for clients and easing the administrative burdens for food providers. It will also provide a direct communications channel between food pantries and their clients, and help to overcome common language barriers.

“Technology is improving our lives every day. Plentiful is the first mobile product of its kind in the charitable food sector nationally, and will improve lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” says Jilly Stephens, Executive Director of City Harvest. “With this technology, pantries will be able to keep better track of who they are serving, and hungry New Yorkers will be able to avoid waiting in line for hours, and even make reservations to pick up food for their families.”


Laura Fahey,, 212-953-2814