In March 2020, faced with an unprecedented surge in demand for emergency food due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City rapidly launched GetFoodNYC. This program delivered food to elderly, infirm, and other homebound New Yorkers who were most at risk of death and illness from COVID-19. Over time the program adapted to include culturally responsive food including kosher, halal, vegetarian, Latin, and pan-Asian options. All told from the program’s inception through the end of September 2021, GetFoodNYC delivered 128.7 million meals, of which nearly 27 million were kosher or halal.

The Mayors Office of Food Policy kept track of GetFoodNYC requests and shared the data publicly, allowing a first-time opportunity to examine city-wide demand for food by category (kosher, halal, vegetarian, Latin, pan-Asian, and non-specialty).

As a certified enroller, leader in culturally responsive emergency food, and the largest kosher food network operator in the country, Met Council utilized this data to analyze kosher and halal meal distribution through GetFoodNYC. Below is a summary of our findings, an in-depth analysis is available in the full report.

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Findings & Analysis

From March 2020 through September 2021, GetFoodNYC delivered 128,680,553 meals of which 17,643,510 were kosher and 9,226,680 were halal. Our analysis shows that kosher and halal food made up about 21 percent of all food delivered through the program. Kosher and halal meals made up 13.71 percent and 7.17 percent respectively, of all deliveries. Combined, one in five deliveries made through the program were either kosher or halal food.

GetFoodNYC Total Meals March 2020 - September 2021
GetFoodNYC 2020 Meals by Month

Looking at the early months of the pandemic, from March 2020 through December 2020, June was the month with the highest demand for GetFoodNYC meals. Kosher and halal meals made up 23 percent of the meals distributed that month. While the total number of meals distributed starts to decline after June 2020, the demand for kosher and halal meals does not. It holds steady and even rises slightly through September 2020.

In this chart we separate out kosher percentages and halal percentages to see if there is a difference in how they trend. We can clearly see that both kosher and halal trend at similar rates. In August 2020 and September of 2020, kosher continues to grow while halal begins a slight decline. In October 2020 and November 2020 both then show small declines before halal rises a bit in December 2020.

Kosher and Halal Percent of Total GetFoodNYC 2020 Meals

Interactive Map

Demand for both kosher and halal food was spread across all five boroughs, with the highest demand in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The map below reflects data from June 2020, the month with the highest utilization of GetFoodNYC. All GetFoodNYC data was collected at the zip code level, but our map allows you to layer various administrative boundaries over the zip code level data to better understand how this program affected your district or neighborhood.

Click on the map or use the options below to start exploring.

Discussion

Aside from these general patterns, it is essential to understand the broad range of cultural differences and specific needs of neighborhoods across the City when providing emergency food to communities with specific dietary requirements such as kosher and halal.

These numbers could underestimate the need for kosher and halal food, since some communities of kosher- and halal-observant New Yorkers could not participate in the program because they require elevated levels of certification that GetFoodNYC did not meet. Moreover, delivery of food on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath) or Jewish holidays caused some kosher-observant households to withdraw from the program and others not to enroll at all. For instance, the GetFoodNYC data shows lower than expected program uptake in Williamsburg even though there is a large population of low-income ultra-Orthodox households in this neighborhood.

Nevertheless, the City’s efforts to make sure no one went hungry likely enabled many kosher- and halal-observant individuals to receive emergency food for the first time.

Our Recommendations

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Although one in five New Yorkers enrolled in the program requested kosher or halal food, the city’s emergency feeding system has a very limited number of providers with the expertise and experience to provide food that adheres to religious dietary requirements and is culturally appropriate.

We must ensure that New York’s emergency feeding system recognizes and addresses the diverse dietary needs and requirements of all food insecure New Yorkers and is prepared for the next crisis. Based on our analysis of the data from GetFoodNYC and our experience as an emergency food provider, Met Council makes the following recommendations:

Funding Solutions
  1. 1.Increase emergency food funding to reflect the widespread need for kosher and halal food.
    1. Increase acquisition of kosher- and halal-certified food to at least 20% of all City-funded emergency food.
    2. Increase funding for New York State programs Nourish New York, Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) and The Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP).
  2. 2.Enable more flexibility with food funding so that food pantry operators can meet the specific dietary requirements of their communities.
    1. Provide funding as lines of credit or cash-in-hand, and allow funding to be used for operating expenses, including rent and salaries.
    2. Streamline the City’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) by removing its procurement process from the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to enable purchase of a wider array of culturally appropriate foods.
Policy Solutions
  1. 3.Ensure awareness and sensitivity to kosher and halal needs in policy-making bodies.
    1. Create a division of kosher and halal food within the New York State Office of General Services.
    2. Expand the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy’s Governance Initiatives to include kosher and halal foods and appoint a Deputy Director to oversee the initiative.
    3. Expand the FeedNYC Policy Committee on New York Hunger Resources to include providers with kosher and halal expertise.
    4. Bring in relevant community-based organizations (CBOs) to City tables during initial planning sessions of new programs, even during a crisis.
  2. 4.Incorporate cultural competency into NYC and State Request for Proposals (RFP) requirements.
    1. The long-awaited request for proposals for a new EFAP contract is an opportunity to incorporate a requirement that programs offer culturally appropriate foods.
  3. 5.Increase and Improve Data Collection.
    1. Have the New York State Office of General Services Division of Food Distribution track and publish data on the distribution of kosher and halal food to food banks across the State.
    2. Continue New York City’s collection and sharing of disaggregated data on emergency food program requests and program utilization and solicit public input about data collection at a new program’s inception.
  4. 6.Increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
    1. Support changes to SNAP that broaden eligibility, reduce barriers to enrollment (such as by extending the waiver that allows clients to apply by telephone and for complete applications to be considered without an interview), and increase SNAP benefit levels.
Legislative Solutions
  1. 9.Enact a State law requiring the creation of an office of kosher and halal within the New York State Office of General Services Division of Food Distribution and require it to track and publish data on the distribution of emergency kosher and halal food to food banks across the State.

Our Methodology

For the purposes of this analysis, we looked at this data in several different ways. First, we segmented the data by month covering every month from March of 2020 to September of 2021, the latest full month of publicly available data at the time of our analysis. Once broken into individual months we separated out the total monthly requests for all meals, kosher meals, and halal meals by zip code. With these numbers in hand, we took a closer look at each month:

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    Raw numbers reported by the City of New York

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    Percentages hand calculated on a monthly basis by dividing either kosher or halal meal distribution by the corresponding monthly total requests

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    Once we had this information, we were able to develop a deeper understanding of where the likely kosher- and halal-observant populations are located within the City, particularly those facing food insecurity.