A temporary state program created to supply produce to New York’s food pantries during the height of the pandemic will now be permanently funded thanks to a state bill signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul.
The Nourish New York program was signed into law by Hochul on Saturday, providing $50 million from this year's budget toward the program. At an event outside the Queens Museum, which doubles as a food distribution site for La Jornada, one of the borough’s largest food pantries. During the early days of the pandemic in 2020, food insecurity soared, with food pantries forced to turn away people due to increased demand. Lawmakers hope the additional funds will continue helping the hunger crisis even beyond the pandemic.
Under the program, the state provides funding to food banks and emergency food providers to purchase produce, meat, and other products from upstate farms. The bill passed in the state Legislature before the session wrapped up in June, but was not signed by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo.
At the ceremony Saturday marking the new law, Queens Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, a Democrat, said the program was life-saving for Queens residents impacted by the pandemic.
"The food lines at my office grew so much, including [at] La Jornada, that sometimes our streets were shut down," said Cruz. "We went from distributing 250 meals a day to 2,500 meals a day, sometimes six or seven days a week at the height of the pandemic."
With pressure on food pantries, restaurants and caterers shuttered, and farmers unable to properly sell excess food, the state created the Nourish New York program to help feed New Yorkers. Cruz said the program has helped sustain more than 4,000 farms and distributed 17 million pounds of food. About $85 million has gone toward the statewide program.
Pedro Rodriguez, founder and executive director of La Jornada, recalled that with such high demand for food during the height of the pandemic, he was forced to turn people away. These days, Rodriguez said there's "no lack of food for Queens."
Rodriguez and Cruz were joined by state Senator Michelle Hinchey, a Democrat representing Greene and Montgomery Counties, calling the bill package a "no brainer."
Hochul said she noticed the long lines of New Yorkers waiting to get their food for the week outside the Queens Museum Saturday.
"This is heartbreaking," Hochul said. "I want every single person here to look over there before you leave today and say never again in this state."