St. John's Bread & Life step up to provide relief in Sandy aftermath
St. John’s Bread & Life a vital resource in the wake of Sandy
Butler describes the technology as similar to that used at a self-checkout lane in stores. It also allows employees to track the popularity of food items.
“[The technology] gives us a lot of data in terms of how people use food, and what other services they are looking for,” Butler said.
“We will own the rights to it and are now in the process of trying to sell it to help it pay the bills.”
Like many charitable organizations, the biggest challenge Bread & Life faces is fundraising.
“We have got to raise about $3 million a year,” Butler said the Voice, adding that the organization gets around nine percent annually funding from the government.
Since Butler began his work he has noticed fundraising is more difficult, but he pointed out that Hurricane Sandy has resulted in an upswing.
As well providing food made of ingredients from locally sourced producers, Bread & Life also offers other invaluable social services to their New Yorkers.
“During tax season, we provide free tax help from accounting students,” Butler explained. “We brought in close to $4 million last year in tax returns for folks.”
The organization also provides an immigration clinic, where it helps undocumented immigrants obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to enable them to pay taxes.
“The IRS does not care about your citizenship status, they just want their taxes,” Butler said.
As part of an annual Christmas drive this coming weekend (December 15 and 16), volunteers will pack toys and food for 2,000 families in need. They will distribute the items the following weekend.
“A lot of kids after Sandy lost everything, things we don’t think of,” Butler said.
Despite an increase in demand for their services, Butler says that apart from fundraising, an ongoing challenge is continuing to figure out the balance between charity and justice.
“Americans are great at charity,” Butler said. “But hunger in the United States is not a food problem. It’s a poverty problem.
“You could almost draw a parallel to the Irish Famine, where people were not starving in Ireland because the potatoes failed, but because they shipped all the other food out of there.
“There was food in Ireland, the same way there is tons of food in this country.”
According to Butler, one of the key issues for many people who end up in Bread & Life is access to fair competitive wages.
“An interesting study from Georgetown University, shows that half of jobs in the U.S. pay under $37,000,” said Butler. “You can’t make it in this town on that!”
As well Bread and Life’s food banks and social service programs, Butler says one of the important efforts is providing avenues for people to make that next step. A satisfying aspect of the job is hearing from those who have benefited from their services.
“I was at a restaurant trade show this year in the city. A guy came up to me and I thought it was another sales pitch, but he said ‘I want to thank you.’”
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