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.
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