Demand Strains NY Food Pantries

To many, $19 dollars a month may not seem like a lot of money. But to those who worry where their next meal is coming from, it’s the difference between going to bed hungry or full. The number of those in need is on the rise, according to a new report released exclusively to NBC New York. The added demand is straining local food banks.

According to the report by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, demand is up 7 percent year over year following a 2013 federal cut to the National Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In New York, funding for hungry families was reduced by $19 a month on average.

More than 1 million low-income New Yorkers rely on non-profit food pantries to help supplement their grocery needs. But more and more, local pantry operators worry supply wont keep up with demand.

"Nine out of 10 soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City were feeding more people and facing a greater demand. half of them were forced to turn away people," said Joel Berg, who works with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

The food pantries are being pushed to their limits.

Stewart Desmond, who works with the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, said the organization expected more than 400 families to come through its food pantry on 86th Street Monday.

Celestial Hawkings, of Washington Heights, is among the New Yorkers who rely on the 86th Street pantry to bolster holiday feasts -- and stock the fridge on a regular basis.

"I'm looking for a turkey and all the holidays fixings," Hawkings said as she browsed through the shelves. Hawkings waited more than two hours before filling up her cart.

"It's worth the wait," she said. "They give you food for the whole month, so you can make a lot of extra meals out of this."

Desmond said generous donations help keep the 86th Street pantry fully stocked, but Berg worries some New Yorkers may be forced to go hungry if demand continues to outpace supply.

Berg says the solution is two-fold -- increase federal SNAP benefits and create more jobs that paying living wages.

"Smart public policies need to be enacted to make sure that people who are working hard and playing by the rules don't go hungry," he said. 

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