An Open Letter to Mayor Bloomberg From the Hungry People of Brooklyn
The following is an open letter from New York author and activist Anthony Papa. Papa encourages New York City to allow the Brooklyn food pantry Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH) to utilize the vacant lots adjacent to it -- helping to feed the poor and uplift the community -- but the city has sadly put them up for the sale.
The hunger problem in New York City is worse than it's ever been. 1.4 million women, children, seniors, working poor and people with disabilities must rely on food pantries and soup kitchens for their daily nutritional needs. Additionally, 3.3 million New Yorkers who live in households experience food insecurity, hunger and inadequate nutrition. Every day, in all five boroughs of New York, thousands of people regularly stand in line for hours, even outdoors in the rain and frigid temperatures, hoping for a small morsel of food for their family.
Making the problem even worse is that New York City's poor can only afford the cheapest and poorest quality food, which often means fast food, and processed foods packed with salt, sugar and fats. They cannot afford fresh produce and healthy greens. As a result, obesity and diabetes are rampant in the urban poor community. Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself has acknowledged this as a rampant problem among the urban poor, which is why he has made bringing fresh produce to the urban cities one of his priorities.
Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH) is New York City's busiest food pantry. A non-profit organization working vigorously to end hunger in Brooklyn's poorest and hardest-hit neighborhoods, BSCAH distributes food and empowers families through information, engagement and support. What began as a traditional food pantry is now the largest pantry in Brooklyn, feeding over 10,000 people per month, more than any other food pantry in the city of New York. BSCAH is broadly respected and appreciated for pioneering a "supermarket" approach to food selection - an approach that minimizes waste and lends dignity to the process of emergency food distribution. BSCAH serves hundreds of families every day from some of New York's poorest and hardest hit communities. In 2011, the BedStuy Campaign served 1.3 million meals and distributed over 400,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables.
BSCAH is devoted not only to feeding the poor, but to feeding them healthy, nutritious food, to counteract the rampant health problems in the community. To this end, BSCAH also operates a 3,000 square foot "victory garden" in its limited spaces, involving volunteers, and growing its own vegetables. In 2011, BSCAH managed to grow 2,600 pounds of fresh produce and use it to help supplement the meals of 3,350 individuals. The Victory Garden also achieved the secondary benefit of offering exercise to the elderly, which help reduced hypertension. It was also a source of pride, and an educational tool for both seniors and youths.
As fate would have it, adjacent to BSCAH's headquarters on Fulton street there now sits a massive vacant NYC lot. In fact, it is 17 vacant lots, all adjacent to each other. The 17 lots, in sizes ranging from 20x100 to 50x100, side by side comprise 360 x 100 feet, or 36,000 square feet. This immense vacant lot is just sitting there, overgrown with weeds, as it has been for years.
BSCAH would like NYC to allow it to use this land to create an immense victory garden--a victory farm. With the use of this land, BSCAH would be able to grow and harvest approximately 25,000 pounds of food per year, feeding thousands of families for pennies right from local soil--and saving money on trucking in food. The farm would also generate what is most urgently needed in the community: fresh, healthy produce. It would also serve as a rallying point, involving hundreds of the community's poor in healthy, dignifying volunteer work, which would help restore dignity and pride to the community.
It would also be the largest farm in Brooklyn--an attraction not just for the borough but for city and the state, creating a destination where tourists from around the city, the country and the world would want to visit, and perhaps even spend a day volunteering. It could serve as a model for urban environments all across the country, showing them that fresh produce can be grown right where they live.
Unfortunately, NYC has slated this lot for development, for more housing and retail space. In the Fall of 2012, NYC will start formally accepting offers for development. After that cutoff time, it will be too late to do anything else with the land. We must act now, before September, 2012, to ensure this lot is put to its best use--to feed the hungry.
So Please Mayor Bloomberg help BSCAH secure this lot.
On June 14th the third annual Planter Awards Dinner and fundraiser will be held to feed the hungry. For more information or to make a donation please call 718-773-3551 ext. 151 or email [email protected]
Follow Anthony Papa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnthonyPapa