At The River Fund New York, we regard food as the first line of defense in the battle against poverty: You cannot get through to a parent on any topic when that parent’s child is hungry. Hence, moving people beyond the lines of poverty is completely impossible as long as hunger remains an immediate issue for them.
As a poverty amelioration organization, our goal is to tackle poverty in all its forms and at any level. However, we are realistic in our scope: We know that our organization cannot “end poverty” in New York. We may not even be able to end it in the dozens of communities where we are active. Hence, our focus is simply to move those WE serve beyond the lines of poverty.
Of course, the number of people we serve continues to grow every year, but our goal is not—and has never been—to show increasing numbers. Instead, we endeavor to increase the meaning and impact of our work on the lives within each household we serve; and in so doing to break the cycle of poverty that each family is trapped in. As more families in a neighborhood emerge from poverty, the stronger that community becomes.
Our development along the path of becoming an empowerment agency that continually builds the dignity of those we serve, began in the mid-1990s. That’s when hunger suddenly erupted as a crisis in New York City, but remained hidden in the climate of general economic prosperity that prevailed at the time: With federal surpluses in the hundreds of billions and stock markets breaking their own records almost every day, money seemed to be everywhere. Yet, in some of the busiest parts of the City’s outer boroughs, hunger was becoming endemic.
Making matters worse, high real estate prices in these areas prevented the growth of the usual church-based endeavors that typically drive anti-hunger initiatives. The River Fund’s founder, Swami Durga Das recognized the need to change his organization from one that focused primarily on people affected by HIV/AIDS, to one that could also address the new epidemic of poverty.
As Shirley Rice COO of The River Fund puts it, “People were making desperate choices between heating and eating.” Programs that provided sandwiches and bowls of soup to the homeless were barely making a difference as the face of hunger continued to change. The new victims of hunger were average households often headed by two adults with jobs—and suddenly a new term entered our national vocabulary to describe them: “the working poor.”
Simultaneously, as hunger crept further upward into the middle class, a less offensive-sounding expression began appearing in the media: “food insufficiency.” The state-monitored “Emergency Food Relief Organizations”—or EFROs—that were expected to be temporary entities when they were first conceptualized had suddenly become permanent fixtures in their communities; but, most areas in Queens and some parts of Brooklyn had none.
Understanding the problem, The River Fund New York launched the concept of the Mobile Food Pantry. Though exclusively volunteer-based at the time, we found ways to expand and we began visiting sites in the commercial hubs of Central Jamaica and Coney Island—providing needy families and seniors with the groceries they need to prepare their own meals. Soon, it became necessary to make The River Fund’s base into a fixed “client choice” food pantry—one that allows clients to select the items they want and use, rather than just receive a bag of random goods.
Over the years, this site has grown to become the largest food pantry in Queens, easily serving some 800 households every Saturday. Through our Onsite Pantry and Mobile Operations, The River Fund now serves an average of 28,000 unique individual beneficiaries per month.
Fighting Hunger and Poverty
Poverty in New York City is much worse than official statistics claim. READ MORE.
In 2012, we transitioned from being a volunteer-only organization, to one that compensates its staff, and we began operating our Benefits Access Center six days per week. READ MORE.
We were the very first hunger-relief organization on the ground after Sandy, and today we're still supporting needy people in the flood zones with food and benefits access services. READ MORE.
At our site, we teach families to eat healthy on a limited budget and their kids learn how to prepare nutitious meals for themselves. READ MORE.
The Mission of The River Fund New York is "to feed and empower those we serve to move beyond the lines of poverty." READ MORE.