The Hunger problem is real. For this example, the subject is New York City. Mostly children, older adults, seniors, and women. But we could easily be talking about from wherever you are reading this. Add quite a few of working New Yorkers also to hunger that list. In many cases, working multiple jobs, but still can’t make ends meet.
The large motorized fork-lifts, each operated by one driver, carefully but quickly maneuver in and out of the back of the tracker trailer trucks. They are moving at a rapid pace, of a forklift in-and-out every 30 seconds, unloading crates and crates of boxed food. Everything from produce and fresh fruits to protein and chicken. We are at a huge warehouse in the Hunts Point Section of the Bronx, New York. The Food Bank for New York City operates this hub in this industrial area. The Food is destined to locations all around the big apple.
A man by the name of Francisco Tezen is the Vice President for the Food Bank for New York. Mr. Tezen’s father is Peruvian, and Francisco’s smile is contagious. His background is fundraising for Ivy League Schools, like Columbia University. Like myself, he’s a native New Yorker, mostly from Brooklyn and Manhattan. My home borough is the Bronx. Each day at least 16 tractor trailers are loaded and unloaded from here. After feeling like we were in a B.J’s or Costco, I asked Mr. Tezen about the facility.
“Absolutely. So I’m happy to welcome you to Food Bank’s of New York warehouse facility and food distribution center here in Hunt’s Point, the Bronx. It’s a 90-thousand square foot facility that is the heart and the engine of our ability to distribute meals. Out of this facility, we move 120 meals every minute to New Yorkers in need.” -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank of NY Vice President
I had to stop him there: 120 Meals per minute?
“That’s right! 120 meals per minute! And we do that with the help of an incredible group of New Yorkers who are volunteering with us. We engage upwards of 800 volunteers every week who are really the engine in our ability to ensure that we’re able to meet the need in our community here in New York City.” -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank for NY Vice President
But to get the food properly packaged and then shipped out, the process requires a lot of people. The Food Bank for New York City as Mr. Tezen stated functions via upwards of 800 volunteers every week. And of course, via public donations. I continued our interview, and said: “Wow. So talk to me about the fundraising dollars, if your able to receive X amount, how many people your able to feed with that?”
“Very good question. So for every dollar that someone donates to Food Bank for New York City, we’re able to provide 5 meals. And our ability to do that is through generous corporate supporters, generous food donators, folks who are providing support through food drives, and other means. So it allows us to essentially and efficiently bring those resources together and at the end of the day, helping a New Yorker in need, be able to put a full, balanced, nutritional meal on the table.” -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank for NY Vice President
So is it fair to say that this facility is like a Supercenter”
“It’a hub, and I think it’s an important anchor and community resource. And we can’t do this work alone, so Food Bank for New York City is partnering with 1,000 member charities all across our City. These are soup kitchens, food pantries, schools, and other community organizations that are fighting hunger in their communities. And their a part of our network, and really a city-wide action on the issue of poverty.” -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank of NY Vice President
The Food Bank for New York City has 1,000 Partner Organizations. They are the ones that actually interact with the public for the most part. They are
-Shelters and Schools
We toured the facility….even going into the huge refrigerator, which was so cold that I didn’t have the heart to take the next step and go into the freezer. The financial need for Food Pantries is one that is year round. How difficult is it to keep up with the demand this time of year? (Thanksgiving, Christmas)
“It certainly a challenging time, and I think it’s a moment at which so many New Yorkers are asking how can I participate? How can I take action? I see a need in my community. I know I have been blessed with opportunity and resources. And how can I pay it forward! So Food Bank of New York City actively recruits volunteers throughout the holiday season, and I would say important for folks to remember, remember us in January and February, after the holidays. The need doesn’t go. And Certainly it’s a moment where we need that reminder about service and opportunities to help New Yorkers in need. Again, we need upwards of 800 volunteers every week to ensure we’re able to distribute meals across the city and that need doesn’t go away after the holidays. We also encourage folks to consider making a donation. Again one dollar helps us provide five meals, and this holiday season we’re fortunate. In that we have a donor who is doing a match campaign. And that means dollar for dollar he’s matching donations made to the food bank. That means for every dollar during the next month and a half, we are able to provide 10 meals for that dollar, thanks to this generous donor. So it’s certainly an opportunity for folks to get involved, and to really amplify the reach of their gift to the food bank this holiday season. -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank of NY Vice President
It’s only natural to think about with Government, budget cuts and so on, some years are more challenging than others for such agencies. What the situation this year?
“ So I think right now we are facing an interesting opportunity and challenge where certainly the public can help. We are looking at an increase in the amount of food product coming to us, as a result of trade policy and is making possible the donation of food resources, coming through government channels, but we need operating support. Dollars to help us pay for the distribution, the transportation. And so the operating needs. And so it’s a blessing and a curse. We have the opportunity of these critical food resources. We are talking about fresh produce and proteins which are coming through government channels, but we also need to insure that we have the dollars necessary to distribute this product, and that’s where New Yorkers can play a vital role in providing those critical operating resources to ensure that we are able to meet the demand and the need for holidays, but frankly this is a year long battle, and something that we are looking for that support throughout the year.” -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank for NYC Vice President
I never actually thought about one of the dilemmas for such a large organization. Getting the food in, but then getting it out to 1,000 different sources. It’s a huge undertaking.
I asked: “I want to make sure I got this right. So….part of your demand is getting the food, but then part of demand and mandate is getting the food distributed?”
“Correct. So we certainly have operating costs. Their are resources that we need, really private and public partnerships to help ensure that not only do we access the street product. Not only do we have the resources to store and warehouse it efficiently and safely, but also that we have the means to also ensure that we can distribute it. We have upwards of 16–17 tractor trailers on the road everyday distribution this food. So as you can imagine, it really takes all of us, and there are a number of ways folks can get involved to support our work and our mission.” -Francisco Tezen, Food Bank for NY Vice President
I was blown away at what such a huge undertaking this is daily. I said to Mr. Tezen: “So just one more time. Everyday there are 16 to 17 tractor trailer moving food?” “Moving food around those member-charities across the city, throughout the five boroughs.” He said. 1,000 charities? “That’s right.” Mr. Tezen stated. I have served food at a so-called Soup Kitchen before. It was a full and complete hot meal. But in this example, is there a typical meal? Let’s be honest.
The experience of not having food is humiliating for most of us. It shouldn’t be.
Therefore Food Kitchens need to change the negative connotation of needing help with food. I was deeply impressed that with the Food Bank For New York City, you’re actually going shopping. It’s a big difference
“There not necessarily a typical meal I would say, but what I would say is that Food Bank for New York City is emphasising and focusing, ensuring that we are providing nutritious and balanced meals. So if you were to visit our community kitchen in West Harlem, what would you see? You would enter the facility, and be greeted by a smiling face in a volunteer, and helping you navigate, and essentially a shopping experience in our pantry. On the left…you’d find baskets of fresh produce. it might be onions, carrots, apples, pears. As we, sort of navigate there would be whole wheat Pasta, that’s been generously donated to us by a partner, like Barilla Produce donated to us by a partner. We have a freezer area where you would be able to find meats. It might be Pork, it might be Fish, might be chicken. And there are also recipes that we provide to clients that are visiting with us. so perhaps there’s something you may not have seen, or may not be as familiar with, we are going to provide tools and resources for you to understand how you might be able to incorporate it into your diet.” Francisco Tezen, Food Bank for NY Vice President
So 16–17 tractor-trailers a day, so how many people are you feeding everyday? You have 1,000 partner organizations, so at the end of the day how many people are you approximately feeding everyday?
“ So for every five New Yorkers, we’re feeding one. One in five New Yorkers are relying on emergency feeding programs. It’s a tremendous number. If we think about who we’re serving, the largest groups are children, older adults, seniors, and women. And there are quite a few of working New Yorkers who are on that line. The challenge is making ends meet. Maybe working Multiple jobs. And need some support and help to put a full meal on the table.” Francisco Tezen, Food Bank for NY Vice President
How did Mr. Tezen feel on a personal level. I said to him that he was very professional. But how did he feel on a personal level, being responsible for this massive undertaking?
“First and foremost I’m humbled by it because I recognize it really takes all of us, all New Yorkers coming together to support one another. I’m a native New Yorkers, born and raised here, grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Proud Brooklynite, and to understand and see the need around our community, can sometimes feel daunting, but I’m really encouraged and really animated and excited about just the response we see from every day New Yorkers, coming to us and saying:
What can I do?
What action can I take?
What difference can i make?
Francisco Tezen concluded: “And it’s really by coming together, it’s really the best of New York. Folks are seeing the opportunity to make a difference, and they are seizing it.”
Many of us are only one crisis away from completely going under. The Food Bank for New York City is giving dignity to fellow human beings at a very difficult time, a time of need. I tip my hat not just to the organization, but to the weekly 800 volunteers that step up. There is never anything wrong with declaring you need help in one capacity or another.