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What to Know About NYC’s $170M Grocery and Food Plan During the Coronavirus Crisis

There’s free home delivered meals for seniors, a larger number of meals at the city’s food pantries, and more

NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia is seen during a press conference standing at a podium
NYC food czar Kathryn Garcia announced a new food plan to serve New Yorkers in need during the COVID-19 pandemic
Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Following reports of long lines at grocery stores and even longer waits to order groceries online for home delivery, the city has put forward a $170 million plan to meet the needs of some of the city’s population most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Feeding New York looks to meet the needs of seniors, many of whom are unable to leave their homes; schoolchildren, who typically rely on free meals at schools; and the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have been left jobless as a result of the crisis.

The city is also looking to serve the needs of communities that don’t have as much access to grocery stores as the rest of the city. The program highlights most of the Bronx, Sunset Park, Elmhurst, and Flushing among its focus areas in the report, as well as communities of color. NYC’s black and hispanic populations have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus due to existing medical conditions and lack of access to healthcare facilities

In the last three weeks, the city has provided 4.5 million meals to New Yorkers with plans to continue serving millions more in the coming weeks and months. Below are some of the salient features of the city’s food plan and what each of them mean for New Yorkers that are struggling to access food right now or anticipate facing problems in the near future.

Home deliveries for NYC seniors and other vulnerable populations

To meet the needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable populations, including low-income New Yorkers over the age of 60, the city has made robo-calls to 400,000 seniors and NYCHA and affordable senior housing residents to assess their food needs. The city is working with more than 11,000 TLC-licensed drivers to deliver these meals, and each delivery usually includes four meals for up to two people in each household.

Deliveries are offered six days a week and New Yorkers can sign up online or by calling 311. So far, more than one million prepared meals have been delivered to New Yorkers across the city. The city plans to continue operating this program for months if the demand persists.

Protecting grocery store workers

Grocery store workers are some of the most at-risk workers right now, and the city is asking that grocery stores require customers to wear masks or some type of face covering before entering stores. The city has also encouraged stores to have senior-only hours and distributed posters to grocery stores to encourage social distancing. The city’s LinkNYC hubs and alert system are reinforcing social distancing norms.

In addition, the city says it is connecting larger grocery stores with personal protection equipment (PPE) manufacturers so larger stores can acquire them for their workers, and donating them to some of the smaller grocery stores. The city is also encouraging grocery store workers to make use of free childcare for those who need it, and is actively looking to help staff grocery stores that have experienced worker shortages.

Strengthening the food supply chain

NYC’s supply chain is spread throughout all five boroughs, but Hunts Point Market in the Bronx accounts for the largest share of the food coming into the city, accounting for 13 percent of the total. But the city plans to ramp up its food distribution efforts in areas that don’t have easy access to fresh and healthy food, including large parts of the Bronx, according to the report.

The city has invested $50 million to ensure the food supply chain remains intact — it can fund up to 18 million shelf-stable meals if the need arises. The city’s emergency management warehouses in New York and New Jersey currently hold 300,000 ready-to-eat meals for any temporary disruptions to the chain.

Ninety percent of the city’s food supplies come in through long-haul trucking, according to the report, and the city has created two new rest areas for drivers near the food distribution centers in Hunts Point and in Staten Island. The city is also looking to improve its freight infrastructure and pilot a cargo bike delivery system.

Helping restaurants and small businesses

The city is using the work of companies like Rethink Food NYC and Central Kitchen as a model to turn restaurants into community kitchens, especially in underserved neighborhoods. The city is also looking to divert the excess supply from currently shuttered restaurants to organizations and areas that need the food.

Bolstering NYC’s food banks and other sources of free meals

Following reports that food banks were struggling to keep up with the demand, the city announced a $25 million investment into the city’s more than 800 food banks including soup kitchens, churches, and other community organizations feeding New Yorkers.

Soup kitchens largely rely on volunteers, and as more people are concerned about leaving their homes, many food pantries have reported a lack of people to help serve those in need. The city is providing staffing support to keep these pantries open, and is shifting resources to pantries that can stay open while following existing social distancing guidelines.

Free meals for school kids and those who need it

The city has expanded the free meals program that serves more than one million schoolchildren to adults as well with 435 locations across the city now serving three meals a day. While the city is already serving halal meals, it plans to add kosher meals to the rotation as well along with multi-day food boxes that will be available on Fridays for families to take home for the weekend.

Creating new food manufacturing sites in the city

As part of longer term efforts to tackle the ongoing crisis, the city is exploring retrofitting existing industrial spaces into food manufacturing areas with room for cold storage, processing, and packing facilities all with the goal of having products ready to be sold at supermarkets if there’s an increase in demand.

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