June 29, 2020

As Food Banks Across The Capital Region Face Unprecedented Demand Due To COVID-19 Crisis, Senator Gillibrand Visits Trinity Alliance Food Pantry

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region’s Arbor Hill Food Pantry to help pack healthy meals for New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic. The Arbor Hill Food Pantry at Trinity Alliance is one member of a coalition of over 60 food pantries in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga counties that make up the Food Pantries for the Capital District, a non-profit that helps equip food pantries with the necessary tools to provide emergency nutritional assistance to Capital Region families. Gillibrand was joined by Natasha Pernicka, Executive Director of The Food Pantries for the Capital District, and Harris Oberlander, CEO of Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region. 

“Food banks have been a critical lifeline for New Yorkers during the hunger crisis caused by COVID-19 and I’m so thankful for the work of the Food Pantries for the Capital District in our community,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Food access networks have seen demand for help skyrocket during the pandemic and we need to support their fight to protect Americans from food shortages. Legislation, like the Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act, would alleviate the strain on food banks and our food supply by cutting out middlemen to deliver fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables from farms to food banks like those in the Capital District. These are challenging times, but groups like Food Pantries for the Capital District remind us that there is no challenge New Yorkers can’t overcome if we work together.”

“Nearly 50% of our network of more than 65 food pantries has seen an increase in demand since the COVID-19 crisis, some experiencing increases as high as 200%. Last year, 65,000 people received food for more than 3.9 million meals – this year with the crisis and unemployment we are seeing many more people in need, not only of food, but access to food including home delivery due to vulnerabilities. Working together we can do more than any one of us alone. We anticipate the impact of the crisis to last for some time and ongoing support for and coordination of the food assistance system is critical,” said Natasha Pernicka, Executive Director of The Food Pantries for the Capital District. 

“Trinity Alliance is grateful to Senator Gillibrand for calling attention to the imperative that people who are food insecure are supplied with fresh produce in order to enhance their health outcomes, and we appreciate her support of our farmers,” said Harris Oberlander, CEO of Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region.

During the COVID-19 crisis, more than 30 million Americans are currently jobless and many are struggling to put food on the table. According to Feeding America, nearly 100% of food banks reported an increase in demand for food assistance during the pandemic, with an average increase of 59%. The Food Pantries for the Capital District network is part of this trend as some food banks in the network report demand increase as high as 200%. Senator Gillibrand is fighting for legislation to support food banks during this crisis and find innovative ways to meet the exponential increase in demand. 

While millions of newly unemployed and food insecure Americans have joined the lines for food banks, farmers have been forced to let fields of produce go unsold because restaurants, hotels, schools, and other food service entities have closed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Gillibrand previously introduced the Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act to address these disruptions in the food supply chain caused by the coronavirus pandemic and directly connect farms to food banks as they continue to serve the surge of jobless Americans. The Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act would give food banks the power to purchase excess specialty crops — including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and dried fruits, which are easily stored and processed by food banks — directly from farmers. The legislation would fund $8 billion in block grants to food banks in the top vegetable and fruit producing states, such as New York which is the 15th largest vegetable and fruit producing state. 

Senator Gillibrand has also fought to alleviate the pressure on food banks by expanding access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Pandemic EBT program (P-EBT). In April, Gillibrand announced the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2020 to expand SNAP benefits for families struggling to make ends meet and she has pushed Congress to include SNAP expansion in the next coronavirus relief package. The P-EBT program was authorized under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act however, the administration delayed approving state requests to operate the program, including New York. Following Gillibrand’s successful call on the Trump administration to approve New York’s request, the administration expedited approval.