Councilmembers at Masbia

I’m grateful for so much this Thanksgiving. For Meg and the kids, for friends and family, for a remarkable community, for great public schools and locally-owned stores, for a renewed conversation about how we create equality, for the opportunity to serve. And, of course, for having the Thanksgiving meal my family will share tomorrow night, and for having enough to eat the rest of the year.

But for many families this Thanksgiving, there will be no meal, let alone an extravagant feast. Hunger has too long been a problem in America – a scandal, really, since we know how to end it completely – and it has only gotten worse as the economy continues to stall and millions remains unemployed.

According to the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, nearly 500,000 children in NYC – or 1 in 4 – live in families that cannot afford an adequate supply of food. Yet, somehow, 79% of NYC’s soup kitchens and food pantries suffered from cuts in government food and funding in 2011. What kind of a society is it, where we bail out banks, but take food away from hungry families in a recession?

This week, I visited two great food programs in our community. Both need our support:

  • Yesterday, I spent lunch at CHIPS Soup Kitchen, which has been serving food to hungry people in Park Slope since 1972. In September, a five-alarm fire next door damaged their building, which provides food for the hungry and transitional housing for new mothers in need. Following the fire, our community stepped up with donations to help get CHIPS back on its feet, and they reopened this week, just in time for Thanksgiving. But they still need donations (at least $5,000 to replace items damaged in the fire) and they are always looking for volunteers.
  • On Monday, I joined a group of my Brooklyn City Council colleagues (see the photo in this email) at Masbia, which operates four soup kitchens around the city, including one in Borough Park. Masbia is a great model – it is set up a like a restaurant, serving delicious dinners family style, with fresh produce. The food is kosher, and all are welcome; on many evenings, I’ve seen elderly Orthodox Jews share a table with Latino and Bangladeshi day laborers. Masbia also has a great and diverse group of volunteers, and also needs financial support.

I hope you’ll support one or both of these great groups, and other similar organizations. But we are not going to end hunger in America just through charity and volunteerism. It is going to take political and policy changes as well. From economic policies that favor corporate profits over good jobs to cuts to welfare programs, we are often moving further from the goal of ending hunger. I pushed for two policies this week to address hunger and economic inequality:

  • Ending the City’s “finger-imaging” requirement for food stamps applicants would end hunger for tens of thousands of New York families, right away. Only NYC and Arizona require this, as California and Texas recently joined the other 46 states who don’t this year. Check out this New York Times editorial calling for an end to finger-imaging for food stamps.
  • The proposed New York City living wage law would make sure that the City’s economic development subsidies create good jobs, not poverty-wage jobs. Right now, the City gives away millions in taxpayer subsidies to developers and corporations – from Yankee Stadium to Queens Center Mall – to create jobs that often pay just $7.25/hour, not even enough to lift a family above the poverty line. After a rousing rally with 3,000 people at Riverside Church on Monday night, the City Council held a hearing yesterday on the living wage law that would require developers and corporations who get over $1 million in subsidies to pay at least $10/hour. Then last night, I debated the living wage law on Inside City Hall – you can watch the debate here.  And please sign our petition supporting the living wage law.

Whatever you think of these two policies, I hope you’ll use this Thanksgiving to appreciate blessings with family and friends … and to recommit to make sure those blessings are shared.

With best wishes for the holiday,