Food Crisis in Suffolk County, NY

 

People from all walks of life are being hit hard by the COVID crisis. Many in our communities are seeing their income drastically reduced, losing their jobs, and/or facing health crisis with attendant financial costs during this time. Individuals and families throughout Suffolk County are struggling to secure food. Some in our communities do not have the means to buy food for themselves  and their families. Others may have the means to purchase food, but due to age, health status, illness, pregnancy, transportation difficulties, distance from stocked supermarkets, federal restrictions on using SNAP benefits for delivery costs, and other factors are unable to secure the necessary food.

Historically marginalized communities are facing disproportionate harm in this public health emergency. Throughout Suffolk County, indigenous, African American, Latino, immigrant, low and fixed income, undocumented, and elderly communities, among others, are facing particular hardship because of already existing vulnerabilities in our nation’s social services, labor, and health systems. Homeless and unhoused persons, as well as families with disabilities face new obstacles in their ability to secure food and medicine. As a region with high levels of income inequality, and a history of racial and economic segregation, Suffolk County’s disparities may be deepened because of the COVID crisis.  The temporary closure of schools, churches, non-profits and other key community institutions has left many families increasingly dependent on a limited and shrinking set of networks for access to necessary goods and services—including basic nutrition.

In our region, the COVID-19 crisis has put unprecedented stress on our emergency food aid systems. Food pantries and food banks throughout Suffolk County are facing overwhelming amounts of need and continue to issue urgent calls for donations and volunteers. School districts throughout Long Island have become emergency food access points by providing “grab-n-go” lunches to ensure that families who rely on freed and reduced breakfast and lunch continue to receive nutrition throughout the unprecedented period of school closure. New networks of mutual aid have sprung up throughout the island to respond to this reality, and diverse community organizations have had to quickly take up the problem of food aid because of the urgent levels of need among their members and clients.

We have been heartened and inspired by the heroic efforts of long-established organizations and newly developed mutual aid networks alike. There have been generous outpourings of donations of money, time, and food as people throughout Suffolk strive to take care of another.

AND YET, existing systems are not sufficient. We have seen the pictures of the long lines of cars wrapping around block by block when food pantries have sporadically offered drive- by pickups. We know that individuals take risks when they entrust their EBT cards to others for shopping because SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay grocery delivery fees. We know that many people with disabilities are unable to wear the masks required in public shopping establishments and unable to wait on queues to receive food. We know that many in our communities are unable to navigate the process of finding a food pantry that is open, speaks their language, and can meet their needs. We see people involved in mutual aid efforts contract COVID-19 and sicken as they serve their community.

We do not know how long it will be until Suffolk County is open for business once again. We do not know how long our public and private schools may be closed or what types of shelter in place, quarantine or isolation policies may be enacted to protect human life in our area. Without maintaining adequate nutrition for all throughout this crisis period, the eventual recovery that will come to Suffolk County will leave large swaths of the community behind.

Local food and justice advocates call upon county, local, and regional governments to work together to implement an emergency food aid delivery system in Suffolk County. It is prudent to implement and publicize this capacity now, knowing that foresight, preparation, and community participation will be critical to the efficient function of any such initiative.

Sign here to join our petition for a county-wide emergency food hotline.