City Harvest

How Young People Can Fight Hunger in Their Communities: Tips from City Harvest

September 27, 2018

For Hunger Action Month, which takes place every September, we spoke with the team at City Harvest to get their ideas for young people working to combat food insecurity and hunger in their communities. Here’s what Eric Himmelfarb, the Manager of Food Sourcing, Procurement and Logistics, and Jerome Nathaniel, the Program Manager at City Harvest, suggest:

Q: What do young people need to know about food insecurity and inaccessibility?

Eric: Food insecurity does not necessarily equal homelessness or unemployment. There’s a perception that organizations like City Harvest feed the homeless. We certainly deliver food to soup kitchens that serve the homeless population, but the majority of people that we serve are not homeless – most are working. You can be employed and still struggle to put food on the table, especially in a city like New York, where the cost of living is so high. Almost half of New Yorkers cannot cover basic expenses, meaning many are forced to choose between things like paying rent and buying groceries.

Jerome: Food insecurity is also about accessibility. So many New Yorkers and people across the country who live in low-income areas simply don’t have access to good, nutritious food. Many live in food deserts, where there is a lack of nutritious food options, or where unhealthy food options heavily outweigh healthy food options. There are many factors that contribute to someone being food insecure, and it’s important for young people to be aware of this so they can develop healthy eating habits and help those around them.

Q: What are five things that young people can do in their community to fight hunger and provide food for those who need it?

Eric: People across the country – especially young people – are becoming more and more aware of food waste and its negative impacts on our environment. However, not everyone realizes the connection between food waste and food insecurity. Over 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, yet there are millions of people who struggle to put meals on their tables. City Harvest works to rescue good food that would otherwise go to waste and deliver it to food pantries and soup kitchens across New York City. It’s important for young people who are interested in stopping food waste to also learn more about hunger in their communities, which they can do by volunteering with food rescue organizations like City Harvest.

Much of America’s food waste comes from the home level. Young people can make a big impact by starting with their own refrigerators. Learn what expiration dates on your food really mean. In general, date labels are not meant to indicate a food product’s safety. Instead, manufacturers create them based on an estimate of when the food will still taste fresh. Resources like StillTasty and USDA FoodKeeper can help you get a sense of how long something will actually last in your kitchen.

If you’re in college, ask your cafeteria about what they do with their excess food. There may be a local organization that can collect it or a community compost that can help reduce waste. The same goes for your local grocery store. It’s important to recognize your role as a connector in your community—by asking questions, you have the power to identify a need and help your community address it.

Jerome: Get involved in your community and challenge yourself to be civically engaged. Volunteering at a local food pantry or soup kitchen is a great way to get involved in addressing hunger and to help your neighbors in need. For youth who are too young to vote, join a community board so you can be aware of what’s going on in your community. Through my work with City Harvest, I recently met a fifteen year-old who joined his local community board!

Get involved in your community and challenge yourself to be civically engaged.”

Young people from low-income areas often lack access to nutritious food. That’s why it’s important for them to learn about nutrition so they can use that knowledge when making decisions at the supermarkets that are accessible to them. Understanding where your food comes from also contributes to healthy decisions. In cities like New York, it can seem impossible to make that connection, but community gardens and urban gardens are all around—expose yourself to them.

Q: What are some resources for fighting hunger that are most accessible to and for young people?

Eric: Volunteer with your local food bank. You can find out where they are from Feeding America – the national network of food banks and hunger-relief organizations like City Harvest. Through your food bank, you can learn more about hunger in your community and what you can do to help. For those who are interested in learning more about food waste on a national-level, ReFED is a good resource.

Jerome: There are many organizations that also specifically serve young people. At City Harvest, we recently started partnering with Brighter Bites, a national nonprofit that works with kids and their families to get more produce into their households. During school pickup, parents and their kids receive a grocery bag filled with fruits and vegetables for free, along with recipes for how to cook them. We’re excited to see this partnership grow and are currently distributing produce to several schools in Queens. Nationally, Brighter Bites is also at work in Texas, Florida, and Washington, D.C

Q: How can young people work with organizations like City Harvest to fight food insecurity and the issues that stem from and contribute to it in their communities?

Eric: Change can start small and grow big. City Harvest was founded 35 years ago by a small group of volunteers who saw good food going to waste, while so many of their neighbors were in need. That’s how the concept of food rescue started, and it has grown into a global movement. Today, City Harvest still relies on volunteers of all ages to help us get good food into the hands of those who need it most, and to help raise awareness. As long as there are people who care, it’s possible to make a difference.

Photo provided by City Harvest.


Q: Why do you personally think food insecurity and fighting hunger with action are so important?

Jerome: For me, it’s from growing up in East New York and living in a food dessert. I grew up making unhealthy decisions because the foods that were accessible or readily available were unhealthy. All of the commercials and fast food chains, I felt like they were targeting me. So this was my food and my reality. It wasn’t until I went to college upstate and started volunteering in that space and being physically exposed to agriculture, that I started making healthier decisions. I realized that I could do that in New York City too. My passion become fighting poverty and making nutritious food more accessible for everyone.

For more resources and information, you can visit City Harvest's website here.