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 statenislandcommunitynews@gmail.com

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