Although much has been done in recent years to help New York City’s poor and hungry, more work lies ahead if the problem is to be permanently solved, panelists said at a discussion hosted by Fordham University’s Bertram M. Beck Institute for Religion and Poverty on March 7.
Speakers, including politicians and activists, noted an alarming statistic: one in three children in New York City lives below the federal poverty line. One of the panelists, New York City Council member Eric N. Gioia, said that the two barriers to helping the hungry — red tape and lack of knowledge — must be addressed in order to help those most in need. He cited the 24-page application for food stamps and New York’s requirement for fingerprinting recipients as examples of such barriers.
“The old application for food stamps in New York City was 24 pages,” said Gioia, who represents District 26 in Queens. “When I worked at the White House, my FBI clearance form wasn’t that long.”
The discussion, “Feed the Solution: Ending Hunger Through Civic Participation and Advocacy with Faith-Based and Community Empowerment,” was held at the Lincoln Center campus. The ecumenical Beck Institute, based in the Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service, partners with New York City interfaith religious and lay leaders to alleviate poverty. Among the institute’s missions is to transform attitudes and responses toward the poor by generating and disseminating educational resources and research.
Dale Lundquist, managing director of the institute, said that hunger needs to be dealt with by providing direct service to the needy and by addressing the systemic issues of political, racial, and socioeconomic inequality which bring about poverty and hunger.
Aine Duggan, vice president of government relations, policy and research for the Food Bank of New York City, said that many local groups had been working in “silos” and thus no coordinated, systemic plan of action to address hunger was in place. That issue was addressed last summer by the Anti-Hunger Policy Platform for New York City and State 2007, the result of several months’ work by advocacy and government organizations.
Duggan said that emergency feeding programs are often a starting point for those at risk of hunger, but that more needs to be done to enroll this population in food stamp and nutrition programs for which they qualify.
Rev. Kevin Bean, meanwhile, said that faith groups have a role to play. Father Bean, vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, said pastors must communicate the problem to their congregations, and the discussion should not be limited to small outreach committees. “It’s not enough to have a vision, we have to create the vehicles,” he said. “If justice is going to flow down like water, someone’s got to figure out the irrigation system.” Bean made a strong case for organizational power: “you only get as much justice as you have the power to compel.”
The Beck Institute will hold an all-day conference, “Celebrating Faith in Action. The Religious Community’s Response to the Challenge of Poverty: What Works,” on April 16 in McNally Amphitheatre at Fordham Law School.
By Brian Kluepfel