Staten Island Feeds It Forward

The Birth of Staten Island Feeds It Forward

It is no secret that COVID-19 has caused unprecedented food insecurity. So many people have found themselves suddenly unemployed and making choices between buying groceries or paying bills. While food drives are helpful and needed, they are transient by nature, and supplies are never guaranteed.

Five women from Staten Island have come up with their own solution to Staten Island’s food insecurity problem. The beauty of their idea is that it is ongoing, always in motion, and benefits everyone involved. This is an introduction to one of Staten Island’s newest humanitarian projects, Staten Island Feeds it Forward.

Mariana Howard has been a resident of Staten Island for 15 years. She and her husband purchased a house in New Orleans, LA in 2012 and split their time between the two locations for 7 years. Throughout the pandemic, she has remained connected to the New Orleans community. Through these connections, she learned of a New Orleans pizzeria’s solution to the pandemic-related food insecurity.

The pizzeria had begun a Pay It Forward program: A customer can add the price of an extra slice to their order. The receipts for the prepaid slices are placed on a wall. Anyone who needs a slice but might not be able to pay can take a receipt from the wall and bring it to the register. They get their pizza with no questions asked and the pizzeria doesn’t lose any money.  

The pizzeria’s Pay It Forward program struck Mariana because of the discretion it afforded. This method can keep a person’s dignity intact while satisfying their need for sustenance.

Thus, the tiny seed of Staten Island Feeds It Forward was planted in Mariana’s mind. Using Facebook as a resource, she found a group of like-minded local people and asked if anyone was interested in helping her get this idea off the ground locally. Soon, Mary Ellen Smith, Heather Browand, Carolyn Adinolfi, and Patricia Clay joined her, each bringing their own talents to the grassroots project. The team soon partnered with a local 501c non-profit organization, that agreed to help execute the final part of the Feeds It Forward process.

How It Works:

  • The core team of Staten Island Feeds it Forward reaches out to local quick-serve eateries to participate in the program and provides a sign for the restaurant to place by the register. 
  • Customers can choose to buy an additional item from the eatery’s menu.
  • The pre-paid food item is printed on a receipt, which is then collected by members of SI Feeds It Forward. 
  • SI Feeds It Forward’s non-profit partner collects the receipts.
  • The 501c non-profit then distributes the receipts to people in need, who can bring the receipt back to the restaurant when they are ready to claim their food or hot beverage. 

Why This Works

Restaurants and eateries are struggling under COVID-19 restrictions. This project will generate additional revenue for the restaurant while also helping to curb food insecurity during these unexpected times. 

How You Can Help

  • Staten Island Feeds it Forward is looking for volunteers to help with a variety of jobs. 
  • If you are a restaurant and want to join the Feeds It Forward partnership, you can reach out to them here
  • Restaurant patrons should look for the Feeds It Forward sign at local quick-serve eateries to contribute a hot bite to someone who could use it.

It is the work of out-of-the-box thinkers and humanitarians who move our society forward with compassion and kindness. It is something we need more of during these trying times and Staten Island Community News is deeply grateful to these women for dedicating their free time to such an important project.

Amanda Donates (and Helps New Yorkers)

Meet Amanda Lyons

via Instagram @amanda_donates

Scrolling through the Amanda Donates Instagram feed is like looking at a snapshot of every specialized charity organization in New York City. Toy drives, food drives, clothing drives; Amanda Donates does it all. 

Amanda Lyons works at a law-firm as a paralegal and attends law school at night. Somehow, despite her busy schedule, she finds time to help save her part of the world.  

A Staten Island native and current Rossville resident, Amanda has hosted occasional toy drives in the past. Hearing about food insecurity and struggles due to the pandemic turned her desire to help others into more than an occasional hobby. “I decided to hold a food drive in April of this year after seeing several news articles about food pantries with an influx in demand and lines that stretched several blocks long.”  

Amanda Donates

Amanda has amassed a team of volunteers, which consist of friends, family, co-workers, and social media followers. Between April and September of this year, she collected non-perishable food items and distributed them at pop-up pantries. Each pop-up pantry provides food to 300-400 families. Amanda has collected and distributed over $25,000 in donations since April.

via Instagram @amanda_donates

In addition to pop up food pantries, Amanda hosted a fundraiser for a local animal shelter, which was impacted by COVID-19. Two additional fundraisers were held for families who lost their homes in fires. Amanda Donates also provided school supplies and sanitizing supplies to a local Staten Island school to help them meet the demands of this unprecedented school year. With the upcoming holiday season, Amanda Donates will begin collecting Thanksgiving food items to distribute throughout NY, with the goal of helping 2,000 families.  

How It Operates

Some companies such as Hach and Rose Law Firm and Pagano Melon Corp have donated toward the cause. Even with donations from these companies, this project has been entirely grass-roots. It is run through word of mouth and Amanda personally organizes all of the drives and fundraisers, collecting donations via social media.

Amanda Donates is currently in the process of filing as a 501c3 non-profit due to the expansive demands it is trying to meet. Amanda’s goal is to partner with larger businesses and corporations to expand her outreach.

Follow Amanda Donates

We expect to see more from the Amanda Donates charity in the coming months and years, as it grows. To follow Amanda Donates’ progress or to reach out for assistance you can contact her via Instagram or Facebook.

Help Staten Island’s ComeUnity Fridge

What Is the ComeUnity Fridge?

Staten Island ComeUnity Fridge

Next to the Good 2 Go barbershop in Mariner’s Harbor is the Staten Island ComeUnity Fridge. It is a wooden shelter that houses a refrigerator and shelves. Colorful artwork decorates the space and bulletins are pinned to one side. An herb garden is growing in a painted plastic bin. The ComeUnity Fridge adds a pop of warmth and color to the urban, concrete sidewalk it sits on.

Written across the top of the shelter, in both English and Spanish, is the phrase, “Take What You Need. Give What You Can.” The ComeUnity Fridge calls out to all who live in the multicultural neighborhood. It is an inviting space that welcomes both those who need help and those who want to help. 

The ComeUnity Fridge is a local volunteer group’s answer to this area’s food insecurity problem. Mariner’s Harbor is a food desert. Food deserts are areas where residents have limited access to healthy and affordable foods. 

Staten Island ComeUnity Fridge

A Greater Need for Donations

The ComeUnity Fridge was almost completely empty and the shelves had limited cans and shelf-stable products on them during our visit.

The near-empty refrigerator and food pantry indicated an insufficient amount of food donations to keep the project going. We spoke to the founding volunteer, Alexandra, about this observation. People and businesses stock the refrigerator, she said, but it is often empty 20 minutes after being filled. There is a greater need for donations and the volunteers are having a hard time keeping up.

How You Can Help the ComeUnity Fridge

Staten Islanders are well-known for coming together during times of trouble. Food insecurity has reached record highs during the pandemic. Low-income neighborhoods like Mariner’s Harbor are living in this reality and need help from the greater Staten Island community to combat this problem.

  • Money– The ComeUnity Fridge has a GoFundMe and a Cash App ($Forestavefridge) for monetary donations that they use to buy food for the fridge. Every little bit counts and every little bit helps. 
  • Time– Volunteer to help stock and clean the fridge and to maintain the space.
  • Food Donations
    • Individuals can bring donated food to the fridge at any time. 
    • Grocery Stores If you are a grocery store or market with excess fresh fruit, vegetables, or prepared foods, the ComeUnity Fridge can really use your help.

As per Alexandra, the ComeUnity Fridge is hoping to find more fruit stores and small markets to collaborate with. If you fall into this category and can offer assistance, you can reach out to the ComeUnity Fridge directly to set up a donation schedule. Email them at

Staten Island Sisters Help New York City’s Hunger Crisis

by: Crystal Migliorisi

New York City’s Hunger Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated New York City’s hunger crisis. A study conducted on behalf of Hunger Free America in April 2020 concluded that forty-seven percent of New York City households have reported a decrease in income since the start of the pandemic. Poverty and food insecurity is a reality for many New Yorkers.

Despite the thriving economy, between 2016-2018, 16% of children in the city lived in food-insecure homes. As of April 2020, that percentage has more than doubled to 38%. The uptick in food insecurity is likely due to a lack of access to food in schools and parents’ loss of employment during the pandemic. Many children are either missing out on one meal per day or receiving smaller portions of food. The study also concluded that 34% of adults are also skipping a meal or eating less food. This is 3.5x the hunger rate of adults in 2018.

SNAP benefit recipients in NYC increased by 68,714 people at the start of the pandemic. The Heroes Act, was finally passed in May, delivering relief to many New Yorkers. In response to the data from the study, Mayor DeBlasio increased free meals to 3 a day for anyone who might need them. Each public school student will receive a food stamp card worth $420. Still, despite this effort, more work needs to be done to help food-insecure families. Many organizations are stepping in to help fill the gap.

Staten Islanders Called to Action

Three sisters and North Shore natives, Zainab, Mariam, and Amal Muzaffar, are all professionals in their own right. Mariam is the Managing Director of a brand consulting agency in NYC. Amal is a Product Manager at Facebook, and Zainab is the Founder and CEO of Beautiful and Delicious, which is their joint entrepreneurial venture. Beautiful and Delicious (BAD) is a leisurewear company manufactured and sourced in the U.S. As women of color eager to have representation in the clothing industry, they had big plans for their clothing line before COVID hit. “We soft-launched [our clothing line] in December and COVID kind of messed it all up and we’ve just been going with it,” Amal said. Although COVID interfered with their business plans, it opened the door for them to help in the community.

Giving back is an important aspect of all three women’s lives. Their parents have always been active in the community in a wide range of ways. They helped build their mosque. They’ve run civic programs like voter registration and census education events. The family would serve meals on Christmas Eve. Their mother regularly donates to refugee programs. When they were children, their mother encouraged them to add small amounts of their own money along with her own donation.

Because Mariam, Zainab, and Amal grew up seeing their parents’ altruism, helping others is second nature to them. Each of them independently focuses on philanthropic causes that are personal to them. Zainab raises money for education in Pakistan. Amal helps support underrepresented communities in the tech industry. Mariam organizes school supply drives for homeless NYC kids. They found a common goal when it came to the current hunger crisis in New York City. Amal recalled how their fundraising idea came about. “We heard on the news about how New York City’s food banks were facing a 5x increase in the need for their services. Over one million New Yorkers lost their jobs and 1 in 5 New Yorkers didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. There were families that had never needed assistance from food banks suddenly standing on long lines in need of food and immediate assistance.” 

NY River Fund

Knowing they could do something to help, the three used the resources available to them through their clothing line to create a fundraiser for River Fund NY. The River Fund has provided food to New Yorkers in need for over 20 years in all five boroughs. In addition to providing food, the organization also provides nutritional education, income support, and benefits enrollment services to those who need it. River Fund has been at the front lines of the pandemic, helping to fill food pantries. 

“We like the NY River Fund because it’s a grassroots organization…directly working in the community. The founder started the food bank from his home and now people from all over the city come to receive food from them. We wanted to donate to an organization where our donations would make a tremendous impact. $20.00 feeds one family for one week,” Amal informed me. 

Fundraising Success

Zainab, Mariam, and Amal created a New York Strong-themed line of shirts, which were available for purchase through their website. Though the shirts are no longer available, they were a big success and sold out twice. “New York Strong” was printed on the front with “Keep Back 6 Ft” written on the back. They advertised via their BAD Instagram account, their personal accounts, and word of mouth. The River Fund also promoted the fundraiser directly. These three motivated and driven Staten Islanders raised $3,000 with their fundraiser. This money helped feed about 150 families in the city, making a big difference in many people’s lives when they need help the most.

Ways You Can Help the Hunger Crisis

  • Donate to the River Fund’s Covid-19 response here.
  • Volunteer/donate food at the Forest Ave ComeUnity Fridge.
  • Donate to Project Hospitality.
  • Are you financially secure and don’t need the food stamp card, which will be issued to public school students? Consider using the $420 on the cards to buy food items for one of the food pantries listed above.

Do you know an inspirational Staten Islander? Write to us and let us know at