Smallest food pantries benefit from innovative program

11/27/2019, 10:06 a.m.
In an effort to help some of the neediest New Yorkers obtain farm fresh produce, restaurants in East and Central ...
A volunteer helps a client at the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger food pantry Cyril Josh Barker photo

In an effort to help some of the neediest New Yorkers obtain farm fresh produce, restaurants in East and Central Harlem are putting their money where their customers’ mouths are: they choose one item on their menu and every time someone orders that item, $0.25 $0.50 or $1.00 is donated to buy fresh produce from local and regional family farms for the smaller, less funded food pantries in the restaurant’s neighborhood.

Unemployment might be low, but NYC pantries and soup kitchens fed 5% more people in 2018 than the previous year.

According to Cathy Nonas, founder of Meals For Good, which coordinates the program, food insecurity is a real and devastating issue that affects 16% of NYC residents, and one in every five children. “Food insecurity,” she explains, is the “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods” and is measured annually by the USDA.

Statistics show that approximately 30% of Harlem residents live in poverty, almost 50% are rent burdened, and the rate of diabetes is four times higher than

in midtown.

“Restaurants make good neighbors,” says Susannah Koteen, proprietor of Lido Restaurant in Harlem. “When restaurants do something like this—not just for a couple of weeks or a holiday, but for the long term—they are helping communities become stronger and healthier. Local restaurants helping their local communities.”

These Harlem restaurants hire from the community, donate food to local churches, help schools fundraise, and support fair wage jobs. Each one has a unique history in the community and now they are adding to their good will with Meals For Good.

The restaurants include Babbalucci, Lido, Vinateria, Seasoned Vegan, Melba’s, Bsquared, RDV rendezvous, Harlem Tavern, Row House, Silvana, and Harlem Burger Co. There are others in East Harlem as well.

Based on the success of the Harlem initiative Meals For Good is now implementing plans to expand throughout the city. “Food insecurity is another name for poverty,” added Nonas, “and in the highest poverty households, families tend to do without more costly fresh food. Meals For Good is a creative way to help people obtain the healthy fresh produce they need.”