Cover Story: Filling the Void
In fall of 2008, the 25-year-old Food Bank For New York City was facing a crisis. A quickly souring economy was a double-edged sword — making for an increased need among people requiring food assistance, and decreased donations of both food and money from businesses and individuals feeling the pinch.
Plus, the economic crisis hit during the organization’s most critical fundraising season, from October to December. In December, food donations were down 25 percent from the previous year and direct-mail donations were off by 14 percent.
Food Bank For New York City provides more than 50 million pounds of food annually to more than 1,000 food-assistance programs throughout Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. The organization experienced a 40 percent decrease in total food donations in the third quarter of 2008, while a Marist Poll commissioned by the organization and released in December showed that 48 percent of all New York City residents reported having difficulty affording food and 2 million people in New York City who had never before accessed emergency food services worried about needing food assistance in 2009.
For most of 2008, Food Bank For New York City had been in talks with the Robin Hood Foundation about how to get additional food into its system. Robin Hood, which supports innovative, poverty-fighting organizations in New York City, is a longtime partner and funder of Food Bank For New York City. The result of those talks: The foundation approved a $1 million matching-challenge grant to the food bank, which an anonymous donor through Robin Hood then matched again. The grant was restricted to the purchase of food to be distributed to soup kitchens and food pantries throughout New York City, translating into an additional 15 million meals.
Robin Hood gave Food Bank For New York City one year from Dec. 1, 2008, to raise the $1 million for the challenge. It took the organization just one month to hit that mark.