Tackling Food Insecurity: A Persistent Challenge with Deep Roots
Chapter Leadership Brief 2.9.24
by Lamont Wray, Jr.
Director, Individual Giving
Food Bank for New York City
Food insecurity is not a fleeting problem reserved for the holiday season or a recent issue stemming from the pandemic. It's a longstanding challenge that has plagued communities for decades, and its impact intensifies. Factors such as the reduction of SNAP benefits, escalating rent costs, rising food prices, and the migrant crisis have exacerbated the situation, pushing many families and individuals into dire straits.
The reduction of SNAP benefits has hit hard, with some families experiencing drastic cuts of up to half of their previous assistance. Some struggling New Yorkers have seen their SNAP benefits slashed to a mere $20 per month. This significant reduction has left many households grappling with inadequate resources to meet their basic nutritional needs.
In soup kitchens and pantry lines, most clientele comprises the working poor. These individuals and families, despite being employed, need food assistance due to the relentless rise in utility bills, rent, and food costs. Their food budgets are stretched to the limit, forcing them to rely on these services to supplement their dwindling resources.
As costs soar, soup kitchens and pantries are also feeling the strain. They are compelled to reduce the food they distribute to each client, further exacerbating the situation. Clients are now forced to visit multiple locations daily and several times weekly to piece together enough food for their households. The ripple effect of rising costs is evident, impacting both clients and the organizations that serve them.
In the midst of Black History Month, which honors African American contributions to the arts, it's crucial to shed light on the challenges faced by African American artists striving to thrive in a city where the cost of living is increasingly unmanageable. This hits close to home for me, as both a fundraiser and an African American artist. My fiancé and I (he is also African American, a fundraiser, and an artist) have witnessed many fellow artists struggling to afford nutritious meals daily because they are weighed down by exorbitant rent prices. Some share that over half of their income goes towards rent, with some spending as much as 80% of their earnings solely on housing. This struggle existed long before the pandemic and has only intensified in recent years.
Amid these challenges, organizations like Food Bank For New York City, thanks to our donors, are working tirelessly to address the root cause of food insecurity: poverty. Over the past 20 years, Food Bank For New York City has returned over $1 billion to communities in need by offering free SNAP enrollment assistance, tax preparation services, and financial empowerment programs. Since its inception 41 years ago, the organization has provided over 1.2 billion free meals to those facing hunger.
Food insecurity is not just a distant issue; it's a reality that hits close to home for many, including myself. I moved to New York City in my late 20s in 2006, full of aspirations and dreams. However, the harsh realities of life soon caught up with me.
In 2008, I experienced a setback when I was laid off from my media job due to the recession, which had a widespread impact on the media industry. Suddenly finding myself without a stable income, I faced the daunting task of ensuring I had regular nutritious meals. During this challenging time, I had to rely on the support of my parents, who graciously helped me make ends meet.
The struggle continued in 2016 when I made the difficult decision to resign from a job due to a toxic relationship with my supervisor and the organization itself. Despite not having another job lined up, I knew I had to prioritize my well-being. This decision left me in a precarious position, unsure of where my next meal would come from.
Living alone then, I was fortunate not to have the added responsibility of providing for others in my household. This realization made me acutely aware of the struggles many others who don't have the same support system face. While I had my family to rely on, countless New Yorkers were less fortunate.
This personal journey has deeply influenced my understanding of the importance of organizations like Food Bank For New York City. They play a crucial role in supporting and assisting those in need, ensuring that no one in our community goes hungry. Food Bank For New York City's impact extends beyond just providing meals; they offer hope and stability to individuals and families facing food insecurity.
As we navigate these challenging times, remember that our actions can make a difference. By supporting organizations like Food Bank For New York City through volunteering, advocating, or donating, we can collectively work toward a future where food insecurity is a thing of the past. Join us in this vital mission to empower all New Yorkers to achieve food security for good. Visit www.foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can contribute to this essential cause.
Lamont Wray, Jr. brings two decades of expertise in non-profit fundraising and marketing to his role. Originally from the Washington DC area and now a resident of Harlem, he holds a Master of Science and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Lamont has significantly contributed to renowned organizations such as ASPCA, Global Giving, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association. Currently serving as the Director of Leadership Giving, Lamont leads a team of four front-line fundraisers focused on cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors who give an annual cumulative gift of $1,000 or more. One of Lamont's notable achievements is leading the development of Food Bank For New York City's first mid-level giving program, the Five Boroughs Society, which has raised nearly $15 million in fundraising revenue. In addition to his philanthropic work, Lamont is a talented jewelry designer, running his own business, Lamont Wray Handmade, for the past nine years.