T.S. Eliot began his famous poem “The Waste Land” with the observation that, “April is the cruellest month.” Three months ago, that high-falutin’ academic sentiment may have felt disturbingly practical to hungry New Yorkers, who found themselves increasingly in need of emergency food, according to a new analysis.
The New York City Coalition Against Hunger announced the finding, based on raw data here and here from the Human Resources Administration, that use of City-sponsored food pantries and soup kitchens spiked by nine percent this spring compared to the previous year. The group calculates that nearly half of the approximately 600 feeding agencies that receive funding from HRA served a total of 1.946 million meals in March and April of 2008, which amounts to 167,611 more meals than were served during the same two-month period in 2007.
“We’ve been hearing anecdotally for a while that the numbers have gone up,” said Joel Berg, executive director of NYCCAH, in a telephone interview this morning. “This is the first time the City’s own data show an increase. Now there’s less room for doubt.”
Prompted by skyrocketing food prices, ballooning joblessness and declining real wages, the increased demand for emergency food arrives at a time when abundance has disappeared from facilities’ menus. Federal and state funding to the non-profit food pantries and soup kitchens is falling, says Berg, cut by as much as 18 percent in the latest budget from Albany. Aid from the City remains stable, at least for now.
However, Berg cautions against the temptation, common during this period of widespread economic turmoil, to envision jilted Wall Street traders and their families pouring into the bread lines.
Just who sought this year’s additional 167,611 meals?
“By and large, it is people who were somewhat struggling before, who are struggling more mightily now,” Berg says.