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NEW YORK — Being able to tell the difference between real news and fake news is an ongoing challenge in the current news environment. To counter the problem, PIX11 News, our parent company E.W. Scripps, and the News Literacy Project have partnered to promote people being effective users and consumers of real news, in order to be more engaged citizens.

Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 is News Literacy Week at all E.W. Scripps news outlets nationwide. Here in New York, to begin the week, PIX11 News worked with a group of middle school students who’ve undergone training created by the News Literacy Project.

Called Checkology, it helps kids differentiate between fact and fiction in news, and also promotes other news values, such as objectivity, bias, the role of a free press in society, and understanding journalistic standards.

PIX11 News wanted to specifically work with teacher Barbara Kong’s eighth graders to not only better understand news standards, but to also apply them to an issue that affects tri-state communities.

So PIX11 News contacted two people with deep experience with the issue of food insecurity — the inability to access enough, healthy food.We guided the students through a press conference with experts Alexis McLean, Ph.D., the dean who administers two food pantries at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, and John Weed, the assistant executive director of BronxWorks, a non-profit that operates a network of food pantries in the Bronx.

The students’ questions to the experts produced information that the students, in turn, used to write their own stories about food insecurity.

Some of their stories are have been published here:

Hailey Ticali, “NYC’s Food Problem”

New York City; an iconic landmark of western life. It’s known as the city that never sleeps; a city full of Broadway lights and really good pizza; a city of underground concerts on your way home from school; a city of art, of music, of color, and of life.

But this city is nothing like that. A city of rats, of expensive housing, of dirty streets — a city filled to the brim with food insecurity. Studies show that one in every eight New Yorkers are food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of nutritious food, if any food at all. Food insecurity comes in many shapes and sizes, and effects all different people for all different reasons. So, about how many New Yorkers are food insecure? There are currently (an estimated) 20.106 million individuals living in New York city, and about 2,513,250 of them suffer from food insecurity.

In my opinion, food insecurity is one of the many problems facing our city today; many of us might know someone personally who is food insecure. Many of us may be food insecure ourselves.

Food insecurity is not poverty; many middle class individuals receive benefits such as food stamps — but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is the issue itself, which is slowly spreading across New York as well as the United States.

As told to us by Mr. Weed and Dr. McLean, the government is using food stamps, or vouchers used to buy food, to help with this issue — but this isn’t enough. You see, there is a problem with the way these vouchers are given; an individual needs to be under a certain budget in order to receive these benefits. However, if an individual was a few dollars above this amount of money, they would not receive these benefits — meaning that there are so many New Yorkers as well as Americans in general who are suffering with no help.

In addition — many of these people are part of the LGBTQ+ community or are people of color. Discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, and racism are still commonplace in our modern workforce, meaning that systemic oppression is a leading cause in this food problem. About 43% of LGBTQ+ people face discrimination in the workplace, and are often fired from jobs because of their orientation. In addition, white job applicants receive 36% more callbacks than qualified African-Americans, as well as white applicants receiving 24% more callbacks than qualified Latinos.

This systematic oppression in the workplace as well as the standards for food stamps being too high (or too low, I should say), makes this issue worse and worse over time.

It doesn’t help that each year, food stamps receive more and more budget cuts.

Despite all of this oppression, and hunger, and despair, New Yorkers are taking this issue into their own hands. Meals On Wheels gives meals to seniors, colleges have food programs for their food insecure students, and many volunteer programs open food pantries.

But we as a state, as a country, can’t fix this problem on our own. Until we are loud enough for the people in charge, the government, to hear us, we are as good as silent.

This problem will not fix itself on its own — so how will we fight

Justin Akiki, “Food Insecurity”

Food Insecurity is one of the biggest challenges our society faces. Food insecurity is a huge problem that most people don’t know about or take the time to learn about. The cause is much bigger than people believe or portray it to be and actually need to take a minute and learn about it and how it negatively affects so many people, not only in New York but around the world. This is only recently starting to be addressed, while this is a very big growing problem that has been going on for very long. People suffering from this issue need to seek help that is definitely available to them. No matter who, no matter where anyone suffering from this needs to understand also that help is there for them as well as others not suffering they need to be aware of the problem and help support the cause so no one needs to suffer anymore.

Food insecurity is is taking the world by storm but not in a good way. People everywhere are struggling from this and they don’t need to be. There is help everywhere and you could be helped in so many ways. You could be granted food stamps to use at most grocery stores, restaurants, and any other place food is sold. That is the main way among others that you could be helped. When someone goes to seek help at a food pantry and organizations they could do a lot more than physically give you food they help in so many ways. They could recommend you for jobs, help you with housing arrangements, and help you eat healthy. These are opportunities that people in need can take because so many people are in need and are suffering from food insecurity. One in eight New Yorkers are struggling from food insecurity and should take advantage of the resources they have been given. All different types of people are struggling from this in all places. Unemployed people are more than likely suffering from food insecurity. And pantries and organizations could help you get employed and solve your problem. Pantries and organizations take in information and give assessments on people that apply and ask for help. To see what these people could be helped with so here lives could be turned around for the positive. These pantries and organizations help in any way possible on the negative effects on food insecurity.

In conclusion, food insecurity is a catastrophe that is newly becoming a worldwide issue. But there are solutions for these problems provided by the government and private organizations. No one needs to suffer from this people need to help inform people suffering and tell them they could be helped you don’t need to live the way you do. More people need to jump on the cause and help stop this terrible problem that is harming all different types of people in all different places in so many ways. We need to all join together as a human race and take a stand to help our peers, our fellow humans in need so none needs to suffer and we could all live comfortably. Food insecurity needs to be ended, let’s take a stand and work towards the better so the future of our world and generations to come don’t have such thing as food insecurity.

Laci Freitas, “The Freshman Fifteen”

College. College is notorious for its unhealthy eating habits, things like ramen, pizza, mac and cheese, and lots of really unhealthy foods. In fact, there are phrases like, “The freshman fifteen,” suggesting how much weight you gain during college and how you let yourself slip, based on food insecurities. Food insecurities don’t only occur in college, they always occur everywhere all the time. Food insecurity is not having access to nutritious, healthy foods. With this, comes the cheaper and easier option, McDonalds, pizza, mac and cheese and ramen. Nevertheless, this is not where food insecurities end. Under all this is a struggling family. Someone who barely meets ends meet. Based on stats, every 1 in 8 people in New York City and 1 in 4 people in the Bronx struggles with a food insecurity. Food insecurities could be directly related to low income, housing insecurity, and so many more under laying problems. So, how are food insecurities affecting my peers? Who helps fix them?

Food insecurity isn’t rare. It happens every single day. Fortunately, there are people like Dr. Mclean and Mr. Weed, who help these struggling individuals. Let’s start with the question, what is a food insecurity? Food insecurity is when someone doesn’t have access to or can’t afford healthy foods; these issues lead into bad health problems, and is almost all cases malnutrition. There are also some great programs like SnapED that helps promote the use of food stamps. That brings us to another question: What/who helps solve these food insecurities. Like I mentioned before, there are some wonderful people who love to help people suffering from food insecurity. The first person is Dr. Alexis Mclean, she’s the dean of student affairs at Medgar Evers College. Class 801 got the opportunity to sit down with her discuss what she does. One of the biggest things Dr. Mclean works on at her school is helping students deal with food insecurities. Mclean is helping among many at a pantry. She says you never know someone’s underlying situation, and that’s one of the biggest reasons she does it. She’s always loved to help people, and she knows that while someone is trying to better themselves by getting an education, they could also be struggling at home. Some people might have three kids as a single parent. Her job entails helping the students’ lives and making sure that they are in a good spot to continue their further education. She gives out things like toiletries, canned foods, bread, milk, and giving out a lot more things for students in need. The second wonderful person whom 801 got the privilege to sit down with was John Weed, he is in charge of a community programs at BronxWorks. Mr. Weed also gives similar things to people in need, Mr. Weed is in charge of childcare programs, immigration legal services, benefit programs, eviction prevention programs, and senior centers at BronxWorks. When asked why Mr. Weed does what he does, he said he grew up in the Bronx and saw things like this everyday. It became a glaring need that needed to be filled. Food insecurities were happening everywhere and only growing. This is a long-term fix, we need to keep fighting. Besides individuals who help, there are also programs that help people who are in need and suffering from a food insecurities. One of the biggest programs are food stamps. Food stamps are a program that people sign up for, based on income they can be accepted or rejected. If accepted, the family receives a credit card type coupon. Food stamps to sum it up are like a big coupon, families in need can use it to get a discount and hopefully afford food for themselves and/or their family. Major corporations like Amazon Fresh have started taking food stamps. This is a huge step and Dr. Mclean said she almost cried when she heard it, because other companies could start following Amazon, and soon enough, there could be a temporary solution.

If you did not have a food insecurity or housing or money insecurity growing up, consider yourself lucky. These are a major problem today. There are programs that help, but don’t solve. More help is needed. People like you — yes, you the one reading this— can help. You can donate cans of food, non perishables, and so much more. Or, you can volunteer 3 hours of your day instead of watching TV to help. With more help, food insecurities can be less common. A message to go with from Dr. Mclean is about how she feels about helping people with these insecurities: It’s bittersweet, the stories are so upsetting and if I had these challenges I would never be able to persist, but it’s awesome. It makes me feel sad that so many people have issues but It makes me feel great that I can be apart of a bigger picture.

Rebecca Villanueva, “NYC on the Other Side”

Have you ever heard the expression, “There are two sides to every story”? Usually one side is the truth, and the other side is foolery. When it comes to the great city of New York, there are two sides: the luxurious side, and the side of poverty. Most of the time, people think of New York City as one sided: A big, luxurious city full of tourist attractions, Broadway shows, and fancy restaurants. The city that never sleeps. But most people forget about the side where people can barely afford to get food on their table every day. 1 in 8 NYC residents feel that they are food insecure. A food insecurity is the lack of constant access to nutritious food. And in the state of New York, this is a HUGE problem. When you compare wages, and the level of income, to how much it costs to live in New York City, you’ll see that there is a clear problem in managing living in a big city like New York. So let’s take a close look at NYC, on the other side.

On January 17th, 2020 my classmates and I were fortunate enough to be able to meet with “Food Insecurity” experts Dr. Alexis Mclean and Mr. John Weed, who informed us of the big issue. People who are food insecure aren’t always extremely poor. Actually, more people than you would think have food insecurities. 40% of people who attend CUNY have a food insecurity. Luckily, there are many benefits that help people who are food insecure. Albeit, this does NOT solve this issue. There are certain income needs you need to meet in order to get these benefits. Which, in my opinion, is very unfair because you don’t need to be in poverty in order to be food insecure, therefore not qualifying for benefits can be subjective. In addition benefits are only helpful, they don’t take away a person’s food insecurity.

As discussed by Dr. Alexis Mclean and Mr. John Weed, food stamps act almost like credit cards, and give people access to buying nutritious food. Food stamps come from taxes and can be used at grocery stores, shops, and Amazon Fresh! McCleans’ partnerships help give out hygiene items like toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, toothpaste, and socks. And for food insecure people who aren’t mobile, there are programs that bring food to them such as Wheels On Wheels for seniors! In addition, representatives and/or staff members bring food to students at Medgar Evers College. Food pantries give away food for free to those who can’t buy their own. Farmers markets promote nutritious food! There are workshops, programs, and block parties on spirituality and building resumes. Programs like Wrap Around Services refer people that qualify for needing a job! Grants are also helpful and beneficial to food insecure people.

Thanks to people like Dr. McClean and Mr. Weed, we are closer and closer each day from escaping poverty. But, we are nowhere close to done. The HRA (Human Resources Administration), DHS (Department of Homelessness Services), and all four branches of government are pitching in to help food insecure people as well! As Dr. McClean said, “There’s more than one way to change the world.” What’s important to realize, is that if you want change, all you need is motivation and passion. And this is what the experts spoke about! Mr. Weed got a degree in social work, and based on observations, started the fight towards food insecurity at BronxWorks just 10 years ago. Dr. McClean is the dean at Medgar Evers College and spoke about how the issue of food insecurity found her, and she got involved in the topic from there. The issue of food insecurity is a long term issue that people continue to fight. But, the wise words of Dr. Alexis McClean say, “Something as simple as volunteering one day a week can help change someone’s life.”