COVID-19 pandemic, with more than one in three New Yorkers sometimes or often running out of food or worrying that food would run out before they had money to buy more. The pandemic brought new and devastating challenges in quick succession, with half of New Yorkers losing work-related income at the peak of the pandemic, not knowing how they would make rent or keep food on the table, or when things would get back to "normal."
In the face of uncertainty, actions were taken at federal, state, and local levels to stabilize income and provide a buffer against new experiences of material hardship. These included the substantial expansion of the unemployment insurance program, stimulus payments, the increase in Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) payments, and eviction moratoria. 2020 also saw community-based organizations across the city quickly adapt to meet needs and deliver services while maintaining public health guidelines. This included the substantial expansion of emergency food assistance programs, with food pantries changing their hours, protocols, and delivery mechanisms. Data from the Poverty Tracker show that these supply-side changes aligned with an increased demand for food – between 2019 and 2020, the number of families in the Poverty Tracker sample receiving food from a food pantry more than doubled. And among foreign-born New Yorkers, who were less likely to benefit from the federal policy expansions, the number of people using food pantries nearly tripled. This sharp increase suggests that the role of pantries in the lives of New Yorkers changed over the course of the pandemic, and many of these changes may continue to play a role in fighting food hardship through the pandemic recovery.