April 10, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
The coronavirus has wreaked havoc across New York City, but one Queens woman hopes the pandemic will shine a light on a crisis that has plagued the city for some time–food insecurity.
Crystal Wolfe, who founded the not-for-profit organization Catering for the Homeless in 2017, has been distributing food to New York City’s homeless and food-insecure populations for years. She wrote a book in 2017, titled Our Invisible Neighbors, that provides personal accounts of New Yorkers who have fallen on hard times.
Wolfe says it is easy to fall into destitution. Many people are living paycheck to paycheck and the statewide shutdown– which has brought mass unemployment– is exposing how vulnerable people are to becoming homeless and without food.
“No human should be living on the streets, to me that’s a human right, but now with the coronavirus, there are more people than ever that are in jeopardy of homelessness and hunger.”
“I hope this will become an eye-opener for people that becoming homeless might not be a fault of themselves and our response should be what can we do to help solve it.“
Wolfe’s non profit tries to tackle the problem by salvaging surplus food from schools, catering companies, restaurants and grocery stores and distributing it to the hungry before it is thrown out. She has formed a network where the food is then sent to.
There is enough food in the country, she notes, to keep everyone food secure and if all the city’s excess food was redistributed in this way, it would go a long way to help solve the hunger crisis.
“Around 133 billion pounds of food goes to waste each year in America, while one in five people in America experience hunger on a regular basis,” she said, citing U.S. Dept. of Agriculture data.
“There is literally enough food being wasted that no one needs to be hungry,” she added.
Her group has provided over 42,000 meals to the city’s homeless and food insecure population, she said. The group has been distributing food through churches and food pantries as well as on the streets and subways. The group has also given out over 16,000 items of clothing to the city’s homeless population.
But Wolfe believes more food can be collected from schools that can be distributed to the needy.
She wants the Department of Education to put pressure on schools to donate their unused food– as permitted by a 2017 law– to charitable organizations. She also wants the agency to provide guidelines to schools that they could follow.
She launched an online petition, which has now garnered 700 signatures, in July as a means to put pressure on the DOE. She also put together a paper petition and has collected more than 350 signatures as of Friday.
Catering for the Homeless has also been running a COVID-19 Crisis Relief Drive, which is collecting and distributing around non-perishable food items and toiletries to the homeless throughout Queens.
The group is also handing out meals and bags of groceries to families in need.
Wolfe said the organization has served thousands of families in the past few weeks and that her non-profit has a GoFundMe account for donations.
She said it is now more important than ever to help those in need.