By Mark Hallum
The effort for the MTA’s annual toy drive manifested itself a little differently this year, with the aim to help New Yorkers struggling with food insecurity, a bigger concern than ever since the economic downturn from COVID-19.
City Harvest helped MTA workers, and MTA Bus Company President Craig Cipriano, unload an express bus filled with food donated by employees across all systems in the transit system on Tuesday.
City Harvest’s Ellen Granger said 2020 has seen a greater demand than years before when up to 2.5 million New Yorkers benefitted from their donations at any given time, and now the need is even greater.
“We’ve seen a huge increase since March and we actually have met that need this fiscal year and are raising nearly double the amount of food that we raised last year,” Granger said. “We’ve just really had to amp up our operations, make sure you’re running as efficiently as possible to be able to handle this much… We’ve been sending a lot of food donations directly to our agency partners rather than having to come through our warehouse, just finding creative ways to deal with increased pounds.”
What would normally be a Toys-For-Tots run every year instead went in 2020 toward a more pressing issue in food insecurity, according to Cipriano, who helped clear seats on board the first bus with each row of seats loaded with food, a program the MTA calls Stuff-A-Bus.
“For the last two weeks we’ve had boxes at all our bus depot location, subway locations, our central offices, and people have been donating food recognizing that you know during this pandemic that you know food insecurity is really more and more of a growing issue in and around New York,” Cipriano said.
While Granger said the MTA is likely the biggest donor of the year to the nonprofit which provides to food pantry, there was no telling how many mouths the busload would feed.
According to the MTA, 3,320 pounds of food came off the 9/11 bus which should help feed one person for one day. In total, the agency has donated 5,301 pounds of food to pantries, equally about 4,436 meals.
In 2018, it was found that while food insecurity had dropped by about 22%, one-in-eight New Yorkers were still struggling to find their next meal.
This year, City Harvest has had its work cut out for them having rescued up to 64 million pounds of food and deliveries to their 400 partner food pantries and soup kitchens increased by 83%, the organization said. The number of people served at these sites is up by 206% over the same period last year starting in July.
That comes to about 198,000 people since July 1 versus 65,000 in 2019, City Harvest says.