In a region commonly known for its wealth, picturesque beaches, gold coast mansions, and numerous golf courses one would have to wonder why nearly 10.5% of its population is struggling with domestic hunger and food insecurity. But this is the reality on Long Island where approximately 316,000 people including 70,000 children face food insecurity on a daily or weekly basis, where nearly 65,000 people show up at local food pantries or soup kitchens each week to access emergency food provided by the regional food bank and other organizations whose mission is to feed the hungry.
The percent of households facing hunger in America has remained around 5.6% since 2010 according to a recent report entitled Freedom from Hunger: An Achievable Goal for the United States of America published by the National Commission on Hunger to Congress and the Secretary of Agriculture in 2015. Despite an economy slowly improving and an increase in New York State funding for hunger prevention, there are 3 million New Yorkers that face food insecurity every day, and 10% live in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
The late Harry Chapin who founded Long Island Cares, Inc. as the regional food bank in 1980 spent his career advocating for solutions to the problem of hunger in America. Chapin dedicated the income from many of his concerts to two organizations that he founded, WHY Hunger and Long Island Cares. Providing emergency food to people in need was secondary to Chapin’s mission for Long Island Cares. He was more focused on understanding and educating the public and Congress about the root causes of hunger and in 1980 along with his wife Sandy, he founded Long Island Cares. Thirty six years later, we’re still trying to educate people about the root causes of hunger, but we’ve come a long way towards ensuring that no Long Islander goes hungry in 2016 and I’ll tell you more about this in future columns.
The root causes of food insecurity or hunger on Long Island are no different in our region than across the country, and focusing on income or government assistance according to the Commission’s report “misses the mark.” Hunger on Long Island is the result of low employment, underemployment, family instability, insufficient education, a history of racial or ethnic discrimination, personal choice or a combination of these factors. For families facing food insecurity it means having a lack of access to food when they do not have the resources to put a nutritious meal on their table.
Solving hunger on Long Island can’t be achieved by food or government entitlements alone. The solution requires community engagement, corporate partnerships, enhanced personal responsibility and strong government programs. That’s where the HIA-LI and you can make a difference. The HIA-LI and Long Island Cares annually partner to host The HIA-LI Summer Food Drive where all of the association’s members can donate non-perishable food or make a donation to Long Island Cares to provide nutritious food to our neighbors in need. Together we can make a difference.
This column was initially published in the HIA-LI Reporter, April 2016.