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In New York City, 2 Million Residents Face Food Insecurity, Officials Say

National Guard members help load up boxes at a food distribution center at Kingsbridge Armory in New York City last month.
Lev Radin
Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
National Guard members help load up boxes at a food distribution center at Kingsbridge Armory in New York City last month.

Officials in New York City say they plan to deliver more than a million free meals a day beginning next week. The number of people going hungry in the five boroughs has risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're dealing with an unprecedented crisis," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday morning during his daily briefing. "Before the coronavirus, we thought somewhere around a million people were food insecure and needed food. Now we think that number is 2 million or more."

That means roughly one in four New Yorkers face food insecurity. Daily meals will be delivered or available for pickup and will be packaged to reflect many New Yorkers religious dietary restrictions, officials said.

De Blasio has appointed the city's sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, to serve as "food czar," organizing the nutrition response.

"This is an enormous operation," Garcia said at Thursday's briefing. "It's really nothing like anything that's been done in this city or I would say probably across the world."

De Blasio said local officials have already delivered 32 million free meals since he declared a state of emergency on March 12 over the coronavirus.

The program hasn't always run smoothly. City officials say two contract vendors have been fired for delivering packaged meals that didn't meet quality standards.

"We will hold people accountable," Garcia said, noting that more than 30 organizations and food producers are taking part in the program. "We have made changes to make certain we're getting healthy food to people."

De Blasio said nearly every segment of the city's population has become vulnerable during the pandemic, including the elderly and children. "Think about the working people, middle-class people who were doing everything right and suddenly their job isn't there anymore and they don't have that paycheck and they don't have enough money to feed their family," he said.

The food-support program is expected to cost more than $170 million, including a $50 million plan to build up a reserve supply of nonperishable meals.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.