There are nearly 48.1 million people in America without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Even in New York City — one of the richest cities in the world — about 1.4 million people rely on emergency food programs, like soup kitchens and food pantries for survival, according to Food Bank For New York City. Food pantries, intended to be an emergency source of food, are today a weekly source of sustenance for some people. The populations they serve are mainly women, children, seniors on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, and the working poor.
Beginning in 2012, Food Bank teamed up with photojournalist Joey O’Loughlin to demystify who’s relying on food pantries. Her photos reveal that New Yorkers lining up at food pantries across the five boroughs are regular people – and our neighbors. O’Loughlin has chronicled the various lives of people she’s met on pantry lines.
One focus of her camera: the Jewish community, which isn’t often thought of as one of those struggling to make ends meet. But as with most communities, pockets of concentrated poverty exist.
Within the New York City, Long Island, and Westchester area, Russian-speaking Jews and Orthodox Jews together consist of more than 40% of the diverse Jewish community – and they are also the poorest. In fact, 71% of Russian speakers with a senior in the household, 43% of Hasidic households, 28% percent of seniors living alone, and 24% of single-parent households are affected by poverty, one comprehensive study found. For those struggling Jewish New Yorkers who also must keep to the strict Jewish dietary laws, access to kosher food is of particular concern. Mealtime mandates become increasingly difficult to uphold when kosher food on average costs 30% more than non-kosher food.
These photos, also taken by O’Loughlin, are an in-depth look at everyday faces of hunger within the Jewish community. Hannah Zarzar who runs an official kosher food pantry and one informal neighborhood distribution of challah – the traditional braided bread of the Sabbath– on Fridays, gives us a glimpse at food insecurity within the often-private, predominantly orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York.
These photos were presented as part of a 2016 exhibition called Hidden In Plain Sight: Portraits of Hunger in NYC, which was co-presented by Food Bank For New York City and the Brooklyn Historical Society.