NEW YORK — In addition to collecting food for hungry New Yorkers, City Harvest, a food rescue operation here, is trying to address the “food desert” problem here in four neighborhoods lacking adequate access to fresh foods.
“Just distributing surplus food is not enough,” said Matthew Reich, vice president of food sourcing for City Harvest, which is trying to “address the root causes of malnutrition ” in a program called the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.
The targeted neighborhoods include the Melrose section of the Bronx, the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and the Stapleton section of Staten Island.
City Harvest is working with bodegas in those neighborhoods to increase their selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. In Melrose, the group sends a nutritionist to an independent retailer to lead groups of six shoppers on tours.
“We show them how to put together a healthy meal and how to use produce,” said Reich. Another tactic is to drive demand for fruits and vegetables by funding and distributing $5 coupons to people who participate in the tours. City Harvest is also partnering with Weight Watchers to enable neighborhood residents to use that service for a reduced fee.
The group also performs its traditional role, giving out free bags of fresh produce weekly in the food desert neighborhoods.
Started in 1982, City Harvest collects food from restaurants, supermarkets and various other donors, and distributes to more than 600 social agencies throughout the five boroughs. In all, the organization feeds more than 300,000 people per week.