The River Fund Response to Sandy
Since our base of operations was not severely damaged when Hyperstorm Sandy arrived, The River Fund immediately jumped into action. The morning after the storm, our team members circumnavigated fallen trees and downed powerlines to report to their posts. With schools closed for the first week following the disaster, our army of youth volunteers was available to support our emergency response efforts in the flood zones. Because these young people normally spend their Saturdays supporting our Onsite and Mobile Pantry Programs, they are well-practiced in our operating systems and understand our culture of service. Adult volunteers, whose places of employment were affected by the storm, also arrived at our base—ready to help fellow New Yorkers devastated by Sandy. Our core team immediately coordinated with local Members of Congress and other elected officials who had access to the best information from the affected areas—and could guide us to those locations where the need was greatest. With our dedicated volunteers and experience in mobile pantry operations, The River Fund New York, was the VERY FIRST emergency food program to arrive in many of the flood zones behind Sandy. Here are some photos of our first few days. During the month of November alone, we served over 14,000 households in the flood-affected areas.
In the two months immediately following Sandy, The River Fund provided food to more than 87,000 people in the areas affected by the storm. By the end of December, we had shared 323 tons of product to families and seniors in the flood zones—plus another 281 tons to our regular distribution areas. Click here to see some more photos of our work. This was a five-fold increase over our usual level of emergency food relief. However, rather than allowing the storm and its aftermath to be a distraction from other aspects of our work, we embraced the need to expanded our activity and ramped up our efforts on all fronts. As a result, the geographical footprint of our impact has increased dramatically: We now have five satellite sites in The Rockaways—down from seven in December, when the need was even more acute. We have also established a fixed site in Coney Island—where we only had a mobile presence prior to Sandy.
While it is indeed great to be able to help tens of thousands of households, it is the personal interaction with individual people that keeps us motivated. One resident of The Rockaways, wrote about us to a representative of The Food Bank for New York City:
Serving More and More People
With our footprint more than doubling in size as a result of the storm, we now have a much larger community to care for, and we are seeing a very strong need for Benefits Access Services throughout our entire territory.
The extreme need for benefits is not necessarily a result of Sandy; the storm simply exacerbated the suffering of thousands of households who were already in poverty, and pushed many families into severe hardship who were barely managing to keep themselves afloat in a harsh economy. Responding to this immense need for benefits-access requires a significant change in our operations. Over the next few months, The River Fund will not only be bringing food to desperate neighborhoods in the flood zones, we are also significantly expanding our capacity to assist needy families and seniors access as many as 44 available benefits for which they may be eligible. This is being accomplished by converting our Mobile Benefits Outreach system from a vehicle-based work-station model to one that uses a far nimbler and less costly system based on tablet- and notebook-computers. As a result of this shift, we will be able to deploy eight new mobile agents into the field—greatly increasing the number of households we can help every day.
What Happens Now?
For the past fifty years, in response to the growing problem of hunger in New York City, a large network of community-based organizations (CBOs) grew and became established poverty amelioration resources in hundreds of neighborhoods. Like us, all of these groups work very hard to address the problem of food-insufficiency. Although this huge network of some 1,300 pantries and soup-kitchens extends into almost every part of the City, Hyperstorm Sandy exposed severe weaknesses in the system: Most of the areas hardest hit by the storm, were already badly underserved before last October. The number of food programs in the flood zones was totally inadequate to serve the large population of struggling families and seniors. Not only did the storm increase the hardship of those households, it also pushed thousands of new families over the edge who were barely clinging to some semblance of stability.
The River Fund is one of a handful of organizations in New York City with deep experience in poverty amelioration who have committed themselves to supporting a longer term involvement in the Sandy Flood Zones to address the problem of hunger in the area and access to benefits. We must now address the need in New York City’s flood zones no longer simply as a “response to Sandy.” It’s much bigger than that now—and the poverty we are addressing is a long-term systemic issue. As a result, taking care of the Sandy Flood Zones is now part of our ongoing effort to “Confront Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty.” Please continue to support our work in helping those whose lives have been devastated by this storm.
If the early arrival of this year’s cold weather and the cuts to Food Stamps and the federal TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) and HPNAP (Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program) were not enough to drive record numbers of vulnerable New Yorkers to our doors, Huperstorm Sandy certainly did.
Because our office location was not directly impacted by the storm, and since most of our team members were determined to circumnavigate fallen trees and downed power-lines to arrive at their posts independent of public transportation, The River Fund was open and ready for action immediately after the storm on Tuesday morning.
Our On-Site Emergency Food and Hunger Relief component has been and continues to be open every day and available to anyone affected by the storm. Our normal on-site program day is Saturday; but, in the aftermath of Sandy, anyone coming to our doors at any time is being assisted with food and other services.
Almost 10% of the 140,000 beneficiaries/year that we serve live (or lived) in NYC’s “Zone A” Mandatory Evacuation Areas; and the situation created by the storm and its aftermath has dramatically exacerbated their already desperate circumstances. Those who were able to evacuate to shelters have not been able to return home due to the devastation. Many who could not or failed to evacuate for various reasons are in extremely bad shape.
For years, The River Fund has been an official Food Stamp Enrollment and Recertification Center directly hooked up to the Electronic Paperless Operating System of the New York City Human Resources Administration. As such, we have enabled thousands of households to receive and/or recertify for Food Stamp benefits under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—an important service to the 1 in 4 families whose incomes are insufficient to purchase adequate amounts of food.
Although we have no precise numbers as yet, we anticipate that many of these people have lost all or most of the food they purchased with their Food Stamps in preparation for the storm. The majority of these losses are due to flooding, power failure and/or dislocation—either because the families had to evacuate ahead of the storm, or were forced to leave when their homes were damaged by wind, storm water and/or fallen trees.
We are now proactively setting up a process for getting replacement funds placed on the Food Stamp Cards of the families who have suffered such losses—especially those with young children whose WIC-funded supplies may have also been lost.
Similarly, we are directly involved in helping many of our constituents to get their power and other services reconnected, or in getting them moved to alternate accommodations. This is particularly important for the many Diabetics in our system who depend on insulin that must be kept refrigerated. Several clients who require Dialysis several times per week are severely challenged by the problems in the public transportation system—and by the fact that their regular Dialysis Centers are still without electricity. For many of these people, The River Fund is the place they turn to for assistance and support in dealing with these challenges.
Of course, all of this additional effort requires additional expenditure. At the moment, it is unclear where these extra funds will come from, but we are forging ahead regardless—because the need in the community is there now! There is no time to sit back and wait for financial support. Any help you can provide could not come at a better time!
Clearly, although almost everyone in New York has been affected in some way by the storm, as our City gradually picks up the pieces, it is clear that the people we have always served—those who were already among the most vulnerable before the storm—are now, once again, suffering the most. In addition, many of those who were barely managing before all this started are now forced to join the ranks of those who need immediate emergency assistance—and those ranks are swelling very rapidly indeed.
In addition to all of these challenges to the clients we serve, The River Fund’s main site in Richmond Hill has suffered the loss of one of our commercial freezers: a problem that could not have come at a worse time, since the absence of this equipment directly impacts our ability to make sufficient quantities of protein available to families in need. Rectifying the problem requires an immediate replacement of the damaged equipment—another substantial expense that we must confront right away.
As we continue to focus on the needs of our most needy neighbors, we thank you, in advance, for any support you may be able to provide at this time.
For 21 years, The River Fund New York has been serving our communities on the basis of intense and very dedicated volunteer effort. Today, feeding some 140,000 beneficiaries per year, our organization, with its intrepid band of more than 75 volunteers continues to confront Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty in dozens of New York City Communities.
Going beyond these basic necessities, The River Fund also supports families with children in several important ways—among them our annual Back-to-School Giveaway, which benefits some 2,000 extremely needy children whose parents cannot afford the cost of backpacks and school supplies. During the week of August 27, 2012, we held Giveaway events in each of our three locations.
However, the month of September brought with it the terrifying news that extensive cuts in federal Food Stamp funding and Emergency Food Programs are being considered in Washington, D.C. Even more devastating is the fact that these cuts will disproportionately affect needy families in New York City.
In 2011, Congress already cut some 11million meals from New York City alone. Given the current harsh economic climate and lack of available employment, those cuts contributed to last year’s 40% increase in the incidence of hunger citywide. The River Fund has seen the ranks of its clients swell at an even greater rate—causing us to augment our Mobile Operations with the addition of a new Mobile Benefits Assistance Office Unit (please see attachment).
In an effort to confront this huge problem even more, we are also doubling our on-site Benefits Assistance office space as of October this year. We believe that the more we can enable low-income and needy families to access any available money-saving non-food benefits, the more we can help soften the blow caused by Food Stamp cuts. To streamline our efforts, The River Fund has partnered with SingleStopUSA to become a full-scale SingleStop provider.
This crucial partnership, funded by The Robin Hood Foundation, will allow us to become a single point of entry for our clients to access Food Stamps (if they don’t have them already), WIC (the federal support program for needy Women with Infants and Children), Medicaid, Rent and Heating Assistance, Legal Aid and some 40 other potential benefits programs—from both governmental and private sources.
Last year’s cuts to national Hunger Relief and Emergency Food Assistance programs had a brutal impact on our most desperate communities; but, because of the continued support from you, our friends, that we were able to augment the dwindling supplies of food from public sources with commercially available and private alternatives. Our heartfelt gratitude for this assistance. Thank you.
As we brace ourselves for the coming Winter—the toughest time of the year for those in need—we thank you, in advance, for your continued support of our work. In addition to our weekly distribution of groceries to needy households and seniors, we are preparing for our annual Winter-wear Distribution, Thanksgiving Program, Xmas Giftgiving and Shoes4Kids Giveaway. All of this at a time when our clients need support as they struggle with increased heating and electric bills, which affect their ability to pay rent. It all combines into a perfect storm in which New York’s poorest families are evicted into harsh, icy streets when most others are enjoying a season of festivities and abundance.
Thank you again for all you do to help us mitigate this extreme suffering—and bring hope to thousands of our needy neighbors.
Once again, The River Fund New York brought smiles to the faces of underprivileged children in the communities we serve by distributing hundreds of Easter Baskets as part of our 2012 Easter Giveaway—which included seasonal goodies of various kinds for all the families in need who come to our weekly Client Choice Food Pantry.
An average of 600 households line up every week at The River Fund’s pantry site located at 89-11 Lefferts Blvd. in Richmond Hill to receive groceries, produce, meat, dairy products and a variety of other items. On Saturday, April 7, 2012, through our Easter-Basket Giveaway, these families were able to participate in the joy of this Spring Holiday Season.
The month of April is also National STD Awareness Month. In fact, the third week in April is Get Yourself Tested (GYT) Action Week. On Saturday, April 14, 2012, The River Fund New York kicked-off this important period by distributing free STD Awareness and Prevention Packs to hundreds of families. Each pack included a wide range of high-quality, full-color, printed literature on the topic, specially selected by volunteers of The River Fund—in both English and Spanish—plus a supply of male and female condoms and personal lubricant.
Given its role in local communities—especially among families that are under served in their access to health information services—The River Fund New York takes STD awareness very seriously. Fully 40% of the population served by the organization is under the age of 18; and of that demographic, more than half are between 13 and 18 years old—the age when awareness about Sexually Transmitted Diseases requires the greatest emphasis. Unfortunately, when families are in dire need, it is difficult for them to prioritize the obtaining of materials on sexual health. As a result, there is a higher incidence of STD's and teen pregnancy in needy communities—often resulting in even more hardship. We hope the free distribution of our STD Awareness and Prevention Packs will help break this tragic cycle in the communities we serve.
The month of May also proved to be an exciting month for The River Fund New York: On Saturday, May 19, we honored National HIV Awareness Day by hosting a mobile HIV testing unit from AIDS Center of Queens County (ACQC) at our site. This afforded some 560 families the opportunity to get free convenient and private HIV/AIDS testing while they waited online for food from our Client Choice Food Pantry.
The National HIV Awareness Day is an annual observance created by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ National Institutes of Health to recognize the thousands of volunteers, health professionals and scientists who work tirelessly on and educate our communities about preventive HIV research. Getting tested is the cornerstone of HIV prevention. The River Fund New York is proud to play a part in this vital effort.
During the month of May, The River Fund also launched its very first From Hunger to Hope fundraising campaign. The year-long project was kicked off on May 23, 2012, at 7:00p.m. at CATCH ROOF— one of New York City’s most exciting new venues, where several of our major sponsors hosted a fun night with free open bar and spectacular hors d’oeuvres from TV’s “Top Chef” Winner, Hung Huynh. Almost 400 participants have joined the campaign so far, and are celebrating with us 20 YEARS of feeding and empowering those we serve to move beyond the lines of poverty. Click here to learn more.As we now move forward into the second half of 2012, The River Fund New York is gearing up for the second year of our programs to keep at-risk youth off the streets during the school summer vacation period. In this regard, our primary focus will be our Summer Organic Gardening Program and our Community Youth Basketball Team—The River Fund Cobras. To keep these programs alive, we desperately need your ongoing support.
Thank you again for all your help.
Thank you once again for your continued support through an extremely intense Holiday Season!
From Halloween through Martin Luther King Day, the Holiday rollercoaster period, was, as usual, the busiest time of our annual service calendar. The River Fund New York hosted multiple events for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Xmas—serving our communities from our main site in Richmond Hill and from our two mobile outreach locations in Coney Island (Brooklyn) and Rufus King Park (Jamaica, Queens). The season ended with our annual Shoes 4 Kids Giveaway—in partnership with Payless ShoeSource—which took place on January 15, 2012.
Here are some highlights:—
• For this year’s Halloween Saturday, we had a very special, new feature: A professional, Hollywood makeup artist delighted hundreds of kids by painting on their faces expertly rendered masks of each child’s favorite cartoon monster—while parents and guardians picked up, as usual, their weekly stock of groceries, produce, meat, vegetables, milk and other dairy products, as well as vitamins, clothes and even some traditional Halloween supplies of snacks and candy.
• October also saw a dramatic increase in our Food Stamp impact in the community: The River Fund was rewarded for its award-winning work, over the previous year and a half, as an official electronic Food Stamp enrollment site under the New York City Human Resources Administration. Starting in October, we became the very first “Enrollment Anchor Site” in Queens with 10 (yes, ten!) Referral Sites attached to us: Not bad for an organization staffed exclusively by volunteers! Not only does this greatly expand our income-support outcome in the community, our completely volunteer-based Food Stamp enrollment activity also helps significantly reduce government expenditure of taxpayer dollars on enrollment.
• At our Thanksgiving events, we hosted Feasts in our neediest locations, Coney Island and Rufus King Park, where hundreds of households joined us for a warm Turkey Luncheon—with all the trimmings. From our main site in Richmond Hill, we also shared Thanksgiving Dinner Kits, including Turkeys, to households totaling a whopping 3,218 beneficiaries—our biggest Turkey distribution in our 20-year history!
• Our three Xmas Holiday events featured Feasts, Giveaways of Groceries, Winterwear and, of course, TOYS, TOYS and more TOYS… Thousands of them… Over 10,000 individual gift items were distributed. Some 3,000 kids who braved the weather, and came with their parents to our locations, were personally greeted by our very own “Santa,” and received from him a cuddly stuffed animal before going on to select presents of their choice from our well-stocked tables. Forty-five volunteers were required to keep the gift-giving operation running smoothly alongside the regular grocery distribution process. For those of you who not only donated, but also helped out physically for the gift-giving days, please know that your support was absolutely invaluable.
• Shoes 4 Kids with Payless ShoeSource. Although 2011 was over, the Winter Season was not! One of the greatest areas of stress for needy families is the realization that their children have no suitable shoes for the severe winter weather. The River Fund strives to address this problem in our communities through our partnership with Payless ShoeSource. On January 15, 2012, underprivileged kids from our client population were able to select 128 pairs of FREE shoes at the local Payless ShoeSource—paid for primarily by coupons provided by the Payless Foundation. This is the second year that The River Fund New York has been able to make a difference in the lives of needy children in our communities. At 128 pairs, we were able to triple our impact from last year—but the need is still very great. With your help we can do more next year.
Once again, dear Friends, the work we do would be much harder to accomplish if we did not have your support. The need in our communities continues to rise. A January 11, 2012, report from The Food Bank for New York City indicates that the incidence of hunger has risen in our area by more than 35%—with the most dramatic rise, some 40%, among individuals who have a college degree. We at The River Fund New York have experienced an increase in numbers served from 101,000 individuals in 2010 to more than 139,000 in 2011—a 38% expansion in the demand for our services… and the numbers keep rising every week.
Without your help, we could not have managed to help these people. On behalf of all of them, we thank you very much. With your support, and the persistence of our volunteers, we will continue to make a difference.
To continue supporting our work, please review our current campaign at CONFRONTING HUNGER, HOMELESSNESS AND POVERTY.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.
This project is no longer accepting donations.
Still want to help?
Find another project in
that needs your help.