Paying more for groceries. Higher prices to fuel the car. And for parents of little ones, reaching deeper into their pockets to afford diapers.
Providing for a family can cost a small fortune, never mind trying to keep up with the cost of living. And in a pandemic era, these challenges seem exacerbated ahead of Thanksgiving, especially for those determining whether to pay the mortgage or put food on the table.
“With the cost of the average market basket,” people are “coming to the pantries asking for some help with certain things – milk, eggs, a turkey for Thanksgiving,” said Paule Pachter, the CEO of Long Island Cares – The Harry Chapin Food Bank.
Hunger on Long Island looks like this: There are 228,000 who are considered food insecure, and 68,000 of them are children, according to Long Island Cares, whose numbers stem from Map the Meal Gap, an effort conducted by Feeding America, the national food bank agency. While 33% of households on Long Island are above the poverty level, they don’t make enough to keep pace with the cost of living in the region.
This Thanksgiving, the costs of a holiday dinner are on the rise.
Consumers may see an increase of 12.8% to serve up a Thanksgiving meal for 10, according to Island Harvest Food Bank in Melville. And the need for food assistance this year is up, Randi Shubin Dresner, Island Harvest’s president and CEO, told LIBN.
“Last year we distributed 16,500 turkeys,” she said, putting the need this year at 18,500, including all the trimmings.
But fulfilling that need could be a tall order for anyone wanting to help a neighbor who might not otherwise enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal. After navigating supply-chain shortages and rising prices, this year there is an additional challenge: The recent surge of avian flu. The outbreak could send turkey prices up to 73% a pound, experts say.
Nationally, more than 47.7 million birds have been affected by avian flu in 43 states that include 251 commercial flocks and 328 backyard flocks, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show.
That’s put supply at risk, no matter how much advance planning was already in the works.
Dresner, for example, “put in turkey purchase orders in July to secure pricing early in the season.” Recently, however “a shipper cancelled on us – we don’t know why,” she said, leaving the organization short turkeys. “We’re doing everything we can to raise additional funds and collect more turkeys based on the need we know is out there.”
This year, Nassau County is holding an “End Hunger Celebration” a collaboration with Island Harvest, Long Island Cares as well as Madison Beer, a Long Island singer-songwriter, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 5 p.m. At this food-collection event at Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, admission is free with the donation of a non-perishable food item, but registration is required. All of this pays tribute to Chapin, the beloved singer songwriter and hunger activist from Huntington.
The End Hunger event is designed to get food “to people who are in need, who need a little help getting through this holiday season,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman told reporters.
The event dovetails around efforts across Long Island to brighten the holidays. This week, for instance, Macerich, which owns and operates malls, hosted turkey distributions in the region, including Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream. The Bethpage Turkey Drive, collecting non-perishable items to benefit Island Harvest, takes place on Friday, Nov. 18, at Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s headquarters at 899 South Oyster Bay Road in Bethpage.
It helps to track pricing. Recently, Kerry Gillick Goldberg, who is collecting turkeys to feed 100 residents of Wyandanch Village, spotted turkeys at King Kullen for 69 cents a pound.
“This makes it much more affordable,” said Goldberg, director of communications and programming for the Wyandanch Plaza Association. “I was expecting to pay $1.99 a pound. I’m able to buy more turkeys.”
In Wyandanch, there’s a community gathering so people won’t spend Thanksgiving holiday alone. In advance, Goldberg roasts the turkeys. Kimberly Jean-Pierre, the local New York State assemblywoman, prepares the mac and cheese. The local collard greens are from F&W Schmitt Family Farm. And the Tuesday before the holiday, reusable bags, filled with all the makings of a holiday dinner, are distributed to those in need in the community who want to cook at home.
All of this – and more – aims to assist the food insecure in Nassau and Suffolk counties. To better understand the demographics and develop effective programs and policies, Long Island Cares surveyed more than 1,000 of its clients at 12 food pantries, in Spanish and English.
The survey found that of its client base, 54% are Hispanic/Latinx. On Long Island, hunger is a multigenerational challenge, with 30.5% of the organization’s clients from homes with at least one child. And household income is less than $25,520 for more than half of its clients, with 13% saying they have no income at all.
But hunger, Pachter says, is not only a “poor person’s problem – it’s a problem for the middle class,” especially on Long Island where “the cost of living is so astronomically high.”
Even at a time of low unemployment in the region, people struggle on this side of the pandemic. Here, Pachter shares insights.
“You would imagine that those people who are able to work have found employment,” he said. Still, there are “seniors who retired, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other difficulties, women-headed households looking for affordable childcare, immigrants who are new to the region and don’t have family. There are people earning less than $15 or $20 an hour and can’t afford car insurance. They are coming to the pantries for some assistance, but not everything.”
Dresner said, especially “for people suddenly out of a job, it’s not so easy to shell out another $20 at the gas pump, and another $40 at the supermarket.”
“The good thing is people are not hesitating to go for help,” Pachter said. “Years past, there was a stigma, but we’ve come a long way from that stigma.”
He said the stigma eroded, in part, in a post-Sandy/post-government shutdown era, where many people were affected and needed help. Pachter said local organizations – Long Island Cares, Island Harvest, The Interfaith Nutrition Network and others – were there for them.
“The more we put a real face on who on Long Island is in need of food assistance, the better off we’ll be,” Pachter said.
“We have tremendous support from the community – we need stronger support from elected officials as well,” Dresner said.
And when it comes to stamping out hunger, Pachter sees hope in the next generation.
High school students, he said, “are discovering this issue and embracing it,” noting that up until recently, other causes stood out ahead of hunger.
“The issue of hunger didn’t resonate but now with high school and college students and social media,” he said, there is much more interest, including in food drives and internships. “Young people are getting it and they’re responding.”