At the new Stop & Shop grocery store in Tarrytown, officials recently gathered to launch the newest weapon against hunger in Westchester County: the Food Bank for Westchester’s Kraft Mobile Food Pantry.
The much-anticipated food truck could fulfill a promise made years ago. In 2008, Kraft Foods Foundation pledged $4.5 million to purchase 25 refrigerated trucks as part of an effort to address the growing population of hungry Americans. This month, the Food Bank for Westchester became the latest recipient of a 26-foot truck capable of distributing 10,000 pounds of food. It is part of a growing fleet of mobile pantries aimed at keeping up with the need for food.
The truck, which had its first stop at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Port Chester Feb. 16, will give the Food Bank a chance to access the needy where they live. Rick Rakow, president and CEO of Rakow Commercial Realty Group and Food Bank for Westchester board chairman, said despite the fact that Westchester is one of the wealthiest counties in New York, hunger is a growing problem. “The demand for emergency food rose 45 percent over the past three years,” Rakow said. “Westchester Food Bank responded to 102,000 requests for food each month and distributed 7 million pounds of food per year and yet it was not enough.”
The Hunger Action Network of New York State, a statewide, membership-based anti-hunger coalition, reported that from 2007 to 2009, roughly 12.4 percent of state residents struggled with hunger. That’s an increase from 9.4 percent from 2004 to 2006. In Westchester County, an estimated 200,000 people don’t have enough food, according to the Food Bank.
Sandra Lee, Food Network host and best-selling author, grew up as part of that population. She was on hand at the Feb. 14 launch of the mobile food pantry. Since moving to New York, Lee has become a visible advocate for the poor and hungry because of her own struggles. “I was raised on welfare. I’m not ashamed of that,” she said. “I think it gave me a great advantage to understanding what people really think and how they feel.”
Rakow said the Food Bank understands the complex problem of hunger and nutrition. “This Kraft food vehicle is going to enable us to do more to get more fresh food out and better access for people,” Rakow said. “It is a choice pantry on wheels.”
For its part, Stop & Shop supermarkets held a food drive to stock the mobile pantry. Arlene Putterman, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop’s New York metropolitan division, said the company’s role in the mobile pantry program is part of a longstanding commitment to sponsoring hunger initiatives. “We are the first major grocery chain in Westchester County to provide frozen meat recovery from all of our stores in this area,” she said. “Last year we provided 35,000 pounds of good quality protein to the food bank for distribution to the hungy.”
The mobile pantry is scheduled to appear at 36 sites throughout the county.