ALBANY -- The state is giving $1 million in grants to eight New York food banks, as well as an additional $620,000 to food pantries in flood-hit areas such as Broome, Chemung and Delaware counties, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, the governor launched a statewide initiative called "Help Your Neighbor" to encourage New York residents and businesses to donate to regional food banks. The food banks distribute goods to 5,000 soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and other emergency programs, reaching about three million people a year.
"The economy has been very difficult, as we all know. We're all suffering through it. Some people are suffering more than others," Cuomo told reporters during a conference call.
"The demand on food banks is very, very high, and I encourage all New Yorkers to remember that and think of that this Thanksgiving," he said.
The prolonged poor economy in New York has boosted requests for food assistance, Cuomo said. The need for help is particularly great in parts of the state that were damaged by tropical storms Irene and Lee in late August and early September. Some donors have pulled back on their contributions because of the tough times.
"We're especially cognizant of our fellow New Yorkers who are in communities that are still rebuilding from the flood and storm damage that we had," he said.
One of the emergency allocations announced by Cuomo on Wednesday will go to the Broome County Council of Churches, which gets $60,000 for a food recovery program that had faced possible cutbacks after losing a state grant.
"This is good news," said Deacon Ed Blaine, of the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse. "This will give us time to look for other funding without threatening Broome Bounty."
Broome Bounty collects fresh food from restaurants, groceries and other suppliers that would otherwise go rotten. In turn, the food is distributed to local religious and other organizations for their soup kitchens and community meals.
In late June, the state Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program rejected an application from the Broome County Council of Churches for $70,000 a year -- one-third of its annual operating budget -- for the next five years to help fund the program. The loss of funding raised the possibility of cutbacks to the program, which the Council of Churches estimated feeds 10,000 people a month at 60 different soup kitchens and other locations.
The $1 million is from a federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Contingency Fund grant the state received in October. The $620,000 is from the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program in the current state budget, Cuomo said.
The funding is welcome, but it doesn't get to the crux of the hunger problem, said Mark Dunlea, executive director of Hunger Action Network.
"We certainly always appreciate more charity at Thanksgiving time and there's certainly a lot of need out there, so we appreciate the governor finding some extra money," he said. "I think many of us believe the solution to hunger remains economic justice and not charity."
Dunlea said the state should spend more money on hunger prevention. Hunger Action wants a $4 million increase in the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program.
Foodlink of Rochester found out Wednesday it would receive $107,000, said Julia Tedesco, director of development and strategic initiatives for the organization.
"It'll have a huge impact on the agencies and the individuals that they serve in our 10-county region," she said.
Soup kitchens in Monroe County that are member agencies are serving about 30 percent more meals than they did at this time last year, Tedesco said.
The growing need isn't isolated to urban areas, she said. Many people are turning to emergency-food providers for the first time in their lives.
Staff writer William Moyer contributed to this report.
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