Employees and volunteers of the Food Bank for Westchester, wearing bright orange T-shirts, filled a press conference Tuesday, while elected officials showed off their best orange ties and dresses to kick off September Hunger Action month.
At a makeshift podium surrounded by rows of canned goods at the nonprofit’s 38,000-square-foot warehouse in Elmsford, Food Bank for Westchester President and CEO Leslie Gordon said that the group would be “painting the county orange.”
“Orange is the color of hunger action and indeed we will take action in many ways this month to spread awareness of the need for food and the fact that there is a very real hunger and food insecurity problem here in Westchester County,” Gordon said.
September was designated Hunger Action Month nationally in 2008 by Feeding America, a national network of food banks. Feeding America estimates that 1 in 8 people in the U.S. struggle with hunger. The Food Bank for Westchester estimates that in the county the number is actually 1 in every 5 people.
“It may be alarming for some of us to realize that, here in our very affluent county of Westchester, we’ve got a real problem in ensuring that everyone always has enough to eat,” Gordon said. “But we must join and help our neighbors.”
The nonprofit enlisted the help of a range of elected officials to do so.
“We’re here to stuff this place with all the nonperishables that people can eat in this county,” Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino said.
The county will be promoting the food bank’s September campaign through social media, e-blasts and its website.
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said most people would find it hard to accept “If you were sitting in another country, let’s say in Europe and somebody said, ‘Do you imagine one in five children go hungry in the richest county, in the richest state, in the richest country on this planet?’”
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins said hunger is a struggle people often avoid discussing.
“As a senator, I have people coming in looking for jobs, they’re looking for housing, they’re looking for benefits,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I’ve never had anyone say ‘I’m hungry.’ But I know, if you don’t have a job, if you don’t have a place to live, if your kids are depending on free or reduced lunches, chances are you’re hungry. But people won’t say it. So it is up to us to understand the unspoken needs of our neighbors and make it easy for people to get what they need.”
Spano announced he will take the SNAP Challenge for one week. The challenge requires he buy food using only the monetary equivalent of what a family would receive from the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. In New York, the maximum allotment is $194 per month. For three meals a day, that adds up to about $2.15 per meal.
Spano challenged all other mayors in Westchester to take on the same challenge. White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach, the only other mayor in the room, accepted and said he’d spread the word to other mayors. White Plains will also light several LEDs in its city orange in keeping with the food bank’s theme to spread awareness, Roach said.
Business Council of Westchester CEO and President Marsha Gordon encouraged businesses to help out any way possible, whether by having a donation box, raising money or volunteering at an event.
Some of the ways businesses and others are involved with the food bank’s campaign:
• The food bank will partner with Pace University for its first-ever Miles for Meals 5K Fun Run, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 9 at Pace’s Pleasantville Campus.
• The Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers will place orange mums throughout the center and the food bank will have a booth to accept donation at the center’s annual Fall Flicks outdoor movie series.
• More than 20 county restaurants will feature an orange-inspired dish on their menus for campaign called Eating Orange, as part of partnership with the lifestyle website Intoxikate.com.
• Bow Tie Mount Kisco Cinemas will partner with the food bank and Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry to show the movie “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” on Sep. 10.
• PepsiCo Feeds America event at the food bank on Sept. 14.
• Broken Bow Brewery in Tuckahoe will host a food and funds drive in honor of J.P Woods on Sept. 16.
• White Plains Jazz Fest will host the food bank’s Empty Bowls event on Sept.17 from noon to 5:30 p.m. The event encourages people to buy an artist-made bowl with soup served by local chefs to raise awareness for Hunger Action Month.