By Greg Hudson
As of December 2014, unemployment in the Hudson Valley has dropped to below five percent for the first time since May 2008. It’s a sign of the progress the region has made in recovery from the country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
As new industry and jobs flood the area, signs of economic recovery such as new businesses and new construction are everywhere. Not always so visible is a war being waged against a problem that has escaped the public conscience for most of the year: hunger.
A 2010 Hunger in America study on hunger in the Hudson Valley reported that approximately 244,400 people, including over 80,000 children, received food from food banks operating in the Hudson Valley and the Capital Region at the height of the recession from late 2010 to early 2012. Local food pantries and other agencies in the region report that the demand hasn’t decreased even with the increased employment rate.
“Our volume of clients hasn’t gone down at all,” Edith Schmidt of the Fishkill Food Pantry said. “If anything, it’s gone up.”
The explanation may be simpler than the numbers would suggest.
Hunger Remains as Jobs Return
While employment is on the rise and jobs are more readily available, the changing labor environment in America means that many — if not most — new jobs provide little to no benefits to employees, who have to cover the cost of securities like health and dental insurance out-of-pocket.
The end result is often a personal budget deficit, and one of the first things to get cut from a family budget is food, according to Carrie Jones Ross, food sourcing director at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in Cornwall, New York.
As a food sourcing director, Jones Ross cultivates relationships with donors in the Hudson Valley area, organizing the donation of non-perishables, beverages, produce and personal hygiene products.
“After food, the next thing that gets cut from a family budget is hygiene products,” she said.
The Front Lines
The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley serves 385 member agencies who provide food to needy families, and Jones Ross and her associates sell food and fresh produce to those agencies at 16 cents a pound.
In the winter time, Jones Ross says the food bank relies on produce from other parts of the country, but purchases produce or receives donations from local organic farms during the summer time. Her efforts have increased Food Bank inventory of produce from a two-million-pound annual average to six million pounds in 2014.
“My program is the Food Bank Farm Stand,” Jones Ross said. “I coordinate donations from Hudson Valley farms and set up farm stands in Kingston and Newburgh with locally sourced produce and give it away for free.”
Jones Ross said that her farm stand clientele is varied, from single moms and minority families who are underemployed to senior citizens, the mentally ill, and veterans.
Donation to the Food Bank and regional pantries is high during the holiday season, as philanthropic groups and major supermarket chains lead food drives to collect fresh food and funds for Food Bank use.
During the summer, however, raising funds and keeping the war on hunger in public consciousness is more of a challenge, according to event coordinator Jessica Fetonti.
“We host events throughout the year,” she said. “Our ‘Walk to Fight Hunger’ in October is a great way to get people to come out and raise awareness that there is a hunger issue in the Hudson Valley.”
Fetonti said most Food Bank funds are raised during the holiday season and that the struggle each year is to make the funds last in the face of steadily increasing demand.
“We just try to ensure that the funds are there to provide the food when it’s needed,” Fetonti said.