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Food Bank Warns Funding Cuts Will Hurt Needy Families

By Dartunorro Clark | June 3, 2016 4:57pm | Updated on June 5, 2016 8:11pm
 A volunteer prepares lunch for patrons of the Community Kitchen in West Harlem, a food bank provides free meals to needy families.
A volunteer prepares lunch for patrons of the Community Kitchen in West Harlem, a food bank provides free meals to needy families.
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Dartunorro Clark/DNAInfo

HARLEM — The hundreds of struggling families who rely on emergency food daily may be turned away if a proposed cut to a food program goes ahead, the pantry’s operators said.

Food Bank For New York City, which runs a program through The Community Kitchen in West Harlem, has a network of partners it distributes food to across the five boroughs.

In a budget proposal, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office plans a $1.2 million cut in funding to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which organization workers said would significantly curtail their ability to provide low-income families with meals.

“It’s the last line of defense against hunger,” said Rachel Sabella, director of government relations for the organization. 

“We shouldn’t be playing games with people’s ability to access food.”

The organization operates as an umbrella, partnering with a thousand community-based charities and schools across the city to provide meals, serving an estimated 64 million free meals a year, workers said, and approximately 1.4 million New Yorkers, who depend on emergency food, would be impacted by the cut. 

“Our network has reported having food shortages,” Sabella said. “And with these cuts it’s only going to get worse.”

The organization, along with hundreds of the organizations that work with it, signed a letter to the mayor asking the administration not to cut funding and provide a baseline of $22 million in funding for the program for the future.

In response to the proposed cuts, the 48 members of the City Council also signed a letter calling for the mayor to increase funding to the EFAP program. Sabella also testified in a City Council finance committee hearing.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The organization estimates that millions of meals are missed each year from the homes of Harlem families particularly because of low personal food budgets.

Much of the charity's revenue, Sabella said, comes from city, state and federal programs as well some private donations. The $1.2 million cut, she said, would cripple their efforts.

Already, soup kitchens and food pantries provide roughly six meals in a typical pantry bag for a family monthly, less than the nine that the state standard.

“Staff will be forced to turn people away,” Sabella said.

“And what it means for our agencies across the city is that they’ll have to do with less.”