December 13, 2012

Marc Bussanich

The recovery effort goes on six weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck New York. As prominent pols have cautioned, the recovery will last for months, perhaps longer. The hurricane exacerbated long-standing struggles for low-income communities, who bore the brunt of the storm.

The non-profit world is working to provide critical supplies and resources to help people get back on their feet. Before the storm, they were working with communities to reduce alarming rates of childhood obesity, which they will most likely continue after the cleanup and rebuilding.

Chelsea Clinton moderated a panel of non-profit leaders at a breakfast meeting on Monday, December 10 hosted by the Association for a Better New York. She said she was disappointed that she rarely heard conversations about childhood obesity during the presidential campaign.

"The issue of childhood obesity was not a part of the national dialogue during the campaign, but here in New York City one in every five kids relies on a soup kitchen for a meal and before they enter kindergarten, they’re obese,” said Clinton.

Clinton asked the panelists how they are working with communities to raise awareness and enact solutions to reduce the disturbing trend.

Josh Wachs, Chief Strategy Office for Share Our Strength, which works to end childhood hunger nationwide by ensuring access to healthy food, said that access, education and awareness are the three pillars that support the organization’s No Hungry Kid campaign.

“We’re helping to end childhood hunger by connecting kids to effective nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals, educating and empowering low-income families to stretch their food budgets so kids get healthy meals at home and building partnerships with influential individuals and advocates.”

“There are 16 million kids struggling with hunger, 900,000 of whom are in New York City. Child hunger is the persistent moral issue of our time in a land with plenty of food,” said Wachs.

The organization is able to support these endeavors by selecting anti-hunger organizations around the country that are effective in building public-private partnerships that enlist elected officials, government agencies, nonprofits on the state and local level and different corporations such as American Express, Food Network, Domino Sugar and Wal-Mart.

Erica Hamilton, Executive Director of City Year New York, said that her organization dispatches volunteer tutors and mentors to provide critically needed services to some of the city’s most underserved youth.

“We work diligently to reduce high dropout rates, which has tremendous ramifications for workforce development. Although the city’s graduation rate has picked up since 2005, too many students are still dropping out of school,” said Hamilton.

She noted that over the past 10 years, over 1,500 City Year corps members, have tutored over 15,000 students, which has contributed to a 74 percent increase in literacy scores.

“The volunteers address the high school dropout crisis by targeting the early warning indicators such as poor attendance, disruptive behavior and course failure,” said Hamilton.

Rain Henderson, Deputy Director of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, pointed out that the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has worked with students in 16,000 schools across the country to foster and promote better eating habits and physical activity. But Sandy’s wrath halted the organization’s operations.

“Low-income students in hard-hit areas in Brooklyn are at risk of poor nutrition or missing meals because their schools were devastated by the storm,” said Henderson.

Clinton applauded each of their efforts, but the panelists agreed that, while their organizations are providing essential services, the federal government has to demonstrate its political will by funding anti-hunger and anti-obesity programs. 

Diahann Billings-Burford, Chief Service Officer of NYC Service, an agency created three years ago to tap community leaders’ and residents’ skills to address longstanding challenges, said that Hurricane Sandy was a weather event of epic proportions, and that business as usual will not work in rebuilding the city.

"We’ve made great strides. The Mayor’s Fund [to Advance New York City] has received $41 million in donations to date that has been used to provide help on the ground with food, water and cleaning supplies. And we’ve established a $5.5 million grant program for businesses affected by the storm. I’m proud of citizens’ service and proud of city government efforts. But we still have a lot more to do,” said Billings-Burford.


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