Guide to Food Pantries and Meal Assistance in NYC
Before the coronavirus pandemic, 1.2 million residents in New York City faced food insecurity. Now, with hundreds of thousands out of work, the number of hungry New Yorkers could double. A Siena College poll released last month found 49 percent of New York City residents were concerned about being able to afford food during the crisis. While city and state policies have been introduced to get food to residents, local community groups, nonprofits, and senior centers have also stepped up in this time of crisis to provide free food to those in need. Ahead, learn where to find free food, how to get meals delivered, and how to apply to food assistance programs, as well as the many NYC organizations currently in need of volunteers and donations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio released last month a $170 million plan to feed New Yorkers by boosting the existing food delivery systems run by the city and securing the food supply. The plan includes $25 million for the city’s 800 food pantries, which contains churches, food banks, and other community organizations. “Whoever you are, wherever you are, if you need food, we’re here for you, and there should be no shame,” de Blasio said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April launched the $25 million Nourish New York initiative that purchases food and products from state farms and donates them to food banks and pantries. As of last week, the program purchased food from more than 2,100 farms to give to more than 50 food banks.
Where to go for free food assistance
The pandemic has put tremendous strain on the city’s food banks and pantries, as demand for food grows and the volunteer-driven organizations lack resources and staff. According to the Food Bank for New York City, more than 30 percent of emergency food programs–including soup kitchens and pantries–have halted operations. But there are still resources available for those who can’t afford to buy groceries.
The Hunter College New York City Good Policy Center has also put together an incredibly detailed guide of food resources by neighborhood. Find where to access free food in your community here.
Food banks and pantries
Hundreds of sites across the city are still open and serving free food to New Yorkers in need. Most have switched to grab-and-go bags of groceries to minimize any risk of exposure. Groups like the Food Bank for New York City and City Harvest have created interactive maps that highlight distribution locations. As hours and services are subject to change, it’s helpful to contact the food bank or pantry beforehand. Find an up-to-date list of soup kitchens and pantries, along with their address and phone number, organized by borough here.
New Yorkers can also download the app Plentiful, which was created in partnership with City Harvest, the United Way for New York City, and the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative. Not only does Plentiful help you locate food pantries by location and service times, but the free app also makes reservations at sites, avoiding long wait times. New Yorkers can also text “FOOD” to PANTRY (726-879).
Local neighborhood groups have popped up across the city to help the most vulnerable New Yorkers find food, in addition to other services like education help, childcare, and job placement. Mutual Aid NYC has put together a crowd-sourced directory of resources by neighborhood, including on Long Island, along with contact information.
Since March, volunteer-run groups have collected donations to provide contactless deliveries of grocery and more for those in need. One Mutual Aid organization, Bed-StuyStrong, said it has provided an estimated 40,000 meals for 2,000 people to date, with a majority of the deliveries for elderly, immunocompromised, and disabled New Yorkers.
The Crown Heights Mutual Aid said it completed more than 1,200 grocery deliveries to those in need in the neighborhood just last week. The group also organized a pop-up fridge with free food outside of 1144 Bergen Street, on the corner of Bergen Street and New York Avenue.