Traveling the country to see how community groups fight hunger on a local level, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, visited the South Bronx recently.
Local nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods invited McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, so he could learn about the work of the Bronx Impact Food Access Collective (BIPAC) and how its efforts align with his larger national platform on hunger and food insecurity. On Feb. 23, they toured Hunts Point and visited Boogie Down Grind, a fruit vendor to buy produce and Chilis on Wheels, a plant-based food distribution nonprofit.
BIFAC connects people to resources for food delivery, pantries and nutrition education.
BIFAC studied food insecurity in the South Bronx from 2019 to 2021 and made several recommendations, including that New York City have a commitment to explore new ways to expand farmers’ markets and other programs that bring fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities; a commitment to pursue federal and state action to expand and improve SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other food benefits; and a commitment to providing expanded supports to cooperative businesses and workforce development efforts, particularly those which promote access to fresh produce and/or sustainability in low-income communities.
“I think that the federal government needs to understand that some of the most innovative approaches to ending hunger are happening at the local level,” McGovern told the Bronx Times, which joined the congressman for his tour around the South Bronx.
The South Bronx is also home to the Hunts Point Terminal Market, which provides fresh produce, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables for 22 million people in 49 states. Yet, the Hunts Point neighborhood is described as a “food desert,” or community with little access to quality fresh food. In 2013, the South Bronx had the highest percentage of obese adults in New York City, at 34%.
“It is stunning that here is the center (The Hunts Point Food Distribution Center) of where all of the nation’s food goes through and yet people have challenges here locally,” he said.
During the congressman’s visit, members of BIFAC and McGovern discussed food access issues and opportunities in the South Bronx, why it is important to purchase fresh produce sourced from the Hunts Point Terminal Market, equitable EBT/SNAP expansion, and other impacts of street vending.
Allison Marino, managing director of strategy and partnerships at Phipps Neighborhoods, told the Bronx Times she appreciated the congressman taking time to visit the South Bronx. She hopes McGovern, who first joined Congress in 1996, observed the importance of street vendors as a bridge between communities that lack supermarket access.
“It was really great for us to show the chairman the opportunities we’ve been seeing on the ground,” Marino said. “Reflecting back on the experience, it was gratifying to be able to share our point of view with a federal official who shares our values.”
In October 2021, McGovern introduced a bill that would convene a national White House conference on food, nutrition, hunger and health. The legislation would provide $2.5 million for the conference and lay the groundwork for the historic event, which would be only the second such conference in American history.
The first and only such conference was held in 1969 under President Richard Nixon. That conference led to the creation and expansion of programs such as SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program.
When it comes to food insecurity, McGovern has created the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, which provides nutritious meals in a school setting to nearly 9 million of the world’s poorest children and introduced a bipartisan bill in the House to expand access to healthy school breakfasts for students across America.
The congressman hopes that if President Biden approves the hunger conference, people from groups like BIFAC and Phipps, which advocates on behalf of low-income communities, will be able to speak at it. Seeing how those organizations work together and provide nourishment and programs for the community is a model for the country, he said.
“I believe food should be a fundamental human right,” he said. “There are a lot of bad things happening now, but coming here and having this conversation with the people, it gives me hope.”
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.