How Best to Help People Facing Food Insecurity
Tatiana Youpa, who volunteers with the North Brooklyn Mutual Aid Network to help fill and maintain the community fridge in her neighborhood, says it accepts produce, dairy, bread, pantry staples, baby food, canned goods, and prepared meals. It is not able to take pet food; raw meat and seafood; any frozen foods; or anything that’s open, expired, or partially eaten (you might think that last one is obvious, but Moore for one says she’s seen all that and more).
If you’re interested in not just dropping off food but also helping out your local community fridge by volunteering, Youpa says doing so is fairly simple. Her work consists of checking it for maintenance issues once a week, cleaning it out and wiping it down, and taking photos of the fridge and the area surrounding it to keep the rest of the group updated on its condition. She says some volunteers also coordinate food donations from local businesses and restaurants, and they do grocery hauls based on community requests.
Get to know your neighbors.
Whether you’re new to a neighborhood or not, you can always reach out to the people living around you. You can knock on your neighbor’s door (we suggest wearing a mask!) or leave a note introducing yourself and sharing contact info. Attending community events in your neighborhood is also a great way to get connected with people and see if you have neighbors who might need help with grocery shopping or cooking. Many pantries, like St. James, deliver food to seniors and people who can’t easily leave their homes. Volunteering for programs like these is a way to both help people out and build relationships in your neighborhood.
Finally, maybe there’s a community-led effort to get more markets into the area or to get existing ones to accept EBT as payment. Connecting with neighbors is a great way not only to help people get food when they need it but also to organize for structural change.
Addressing food insecurity beyond your community
Donating food can be a crucial way to help, but don’t stop there. “Increasing free and accessible food resources frees up money in people’s budgets for other necessities like transportation, utilities, rent, or childcare,” says Paul. “But wages, pensions, and benefits should be enough to feed everyone.”
Engelhard points out that, while Congress and the administration made efforts to support those facing hunger during the peak of the pandemic, many of those measures—such as SNAP emergency allotments, pandemic EBT, free school lunches, and the Child Tax Credit—were provisional and will soon expire if they haven’t already, as the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration comes to an end.
These changes will leave even more people hungry. Engelhard says that, rather than acting as if the pandemic and the dire financial situation it has created for many have dissipated, “policymakers must build on those successes and continue to support our nation’s food banks and people facing hunger.” Reach out to your local, state-level, and congressional representatives (you can find your representatives in the House here, and in the Senate here) to ask what they’re doing to increase access to food in your area and nationwide. If you’re looking for a specific legislative solution to throw your weight behind, Feeding America has explainers on federal anti-hunger policy solutions.
Ultimately, the lack of access to food is a problem with structural roots, but the most immediate solutions happen on the community level. Working to fight this issue on both fronts can help us help our neighbors in the short- and long-term. “Talk to your neighbors,” says Grant. “Talk to your elected officials, and keep this issue at the forefront.” •
As part of the 2023 Pantry Awards, SELF has made a $2,500 donation to God’s Love We Deliver, a New York–based non-sectarian organization that prepares and delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses. We also donated the unopened items from our photoshoot for this project to New York Common Pantry.
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