News: Member News

Small But Mighty: How One Local New York Program is Confronting Food Insecurity During COVID-19

Wednesday, September 2, 2020  
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By Alexandra Boillot, Director of Development, CitySquash

CitySquash is an after-school youth enrichment program based in New York’s Bronx borough, housed at Fordham University, and the Brooklyn borough, housed at Poly Prep Country Day. Founded in 2002, the organization helps motivated and talented young people from economically disadvantaged households fulfill their academic, athletic, and personal potential.

For CitySquash’s 240 participants, from third graders to college seniors, CitySquash is an intensive, year-round program that combines squash instruction, academic enrichment and school support, high school placement, college and career preparation, mentoring, character development, travel, and more. The ultimate goal is to see all our team members complete their postsecondary goals and graduate from college.

Since CitySquash is such a long-term commitment – requiring that students join in either the third or sixth grade – our organization develops close relationships with our team members and families. As a result of this relationship-based experience, CitySquash families often see CitySquash as a place they can turn for help in times of need. And that is exactly the role that CitySquash continues to play during these unprecedented times.

Read on to learn how our small but mighty team of 14 staff responded to our families during the most painful and unstable peak of the pandemic in New York.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the communities that CitySquash serves. Our families have needed extra support now more than ever, and our staff knew we had to step up to help our team members and their families.

At the onset of the pandemic, CitySquash staff conducted needs assessments with all of our families. Through these, we discovered that over 50% of CitySquash families had either lost all sources of work-related income, or had income significantly reduced due to the pandemic. Across the board, the primary concern among families was how to put food on the table, between the economic hardship facing families, risks associated with routine grocery store runs in communities with high infection rates, and food shortages.

As we pivoted our programming to be all virtual and thought about how to best continue serving our communities through the pandemic, assisting with access to food seemed paramount. As such, CitySquash thought through a way to provide groceries to families without requiring any contact to minimize risk on all sides.

Different staff members started traveling to the Bronx and Brooklyn with some frequency to pass out grocery bags that those staff would put together. On average, 20-25 families were served through each food distribution, and families were grateful for the help.

In early summer, CitySquash was incredibly fortunate to establish a partnership with World Central Kitchen, made possible by Cura Collective. One of CitySquash’s longtime supporters had helped found Cura Collective earlier this year, with the mission to help struggling communities during disasters like COVID-19, and knew that the CitySquash community was hard hit by the pandemic.

Through this amazing partnership, CitySquash receives 100 meals on a weekly basis, prepared by local Bronx and Brooklyn restaurants, to be disseminated by our staff.  We ensure that participating families receive multiple prepared meals provided through World Central Kitchen, as well as the grocery items coordinated through CitySquash, in order to provide as much food assistance as possible on a weekly basis.

To date, over 1,200 meals have been distributed to CitySquash families. Additionally, the New Canaan Squash community has organized two food drives for CitySquash, which have made possible over 100 grocery boxes, and have been a huge help to the families of CitySquash and the organization itself.

While it is unknown how long the economic hardship from the pandemic will last, CitySquash will continue to assist with food distribution as long as is possible and necessary. This effort has proven to be a critical source of relief for families who are still facing many economic uncertainties.

We continue to serve our students virtually – as so many other NCAN member programs are doing – and look forward to continuing to be that place where our team members and their families can turn to for other supports.

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