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Restaurant Program Needs State Funds



DAVID NEWTOWN, HOST: Tomorrow is the deadline to finalize New York State’s budget and many organizations want a piece of the pie. One group of restaurant-owners is pushing for $25 million dollars to restart the state’s Restaurant Resiliency Program. The program was set up last year to pay restaurants to provide meals to those in food crisis during Covid. It was created with $25 million dollars meant to last four months, but the funds ran out in only six weeks. Mark Gilchrist reports on the push to get more money.


Mark Gilchrist:

The Restaurant Resiliency Program had two goals: to feed people in crisis during the Omicron surge. And to help restaurants stay open.

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Bokola Shonuga is the Founder of Welcome 2 America, a charitable organization that specializes in delivering meals to immigrants. She explained how this program worked.

BUKOLA SHONUGA:

So, what we do is we pick up the meals for a particular restaurant that is matched with a particular food pantry. And, the pantry actually decides how many meals they want. They can say “give us 200 meals” because of whatever traffic they have, and we will 500 meals to 200 meals so different restaurants have different capacities and we deliver different amount of meals to pantries depending on what they need.

MARK GILCHRIST:

And the restaurants get reimbursed with taxpayer money. A lot of money it turns out. Restaurants got around $25 dollars per meal.

Elena Ristovski is the owner of the Marlow Bistro in Morningside Heights. She says the program may sound generous but…

ELENA RISTOVSKI:

It’s not, this is not a charity. You really do the extra work and the extra mile. There was so much work going around preparing and delivering meals that it is definitely not a charity. You feel you earned the money, it is not given to you.

The program served around one million meals before it ran out of money earlier this year.

It only took six weeks. State Senator Cordell Cleare is requesting the same amount of money, but I asked her why she doesn’t ask for more this time.

SENATOR CORDELL CLEARE:

Well, this was the amount that was allocated last year. Ah, we think it is only right to put that amount back in so that we can at least support and help those families that benefited from the hot meals that they received from the program. You know, and it is good for the restaurants, too, and this is a way to at least keep some workers going and working and also keeping the restaurant there till we get through this so that they can rehire and bring people back.

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Cake Burger in Harlem is designed with a fifties diner.

They were part of the program…sending burgers and fries out to needy families.

The owner, Evette Zayas, says the program was frustrating.

It was hard to sign up before the money ran out.

That’s why she wants the program properly funded and fixed.

EVETTE ZAYAS:

We’re having conversations saying, hey listen, you know, we don’t want this to happen again. What can we do so that a lot of restaurants can get a piece of this pie?


Members of the restaurant industry say that all this is fixable if they just get the money.

Craig Willingham is the Managing Director of CUNY’s Urban Food Policy Institute.

CRAIG WILLINGHAM:

“I can understand restaurant owners being frustrated about not being able to access the program, but I hope that, seeing that there is so much demand for this service, that the state will expand it work out all the kinks on the next iteration.”


GILCHRIST:

If there is a next iteration. Negotiations over the state budget are going on today, trying to meet tomorrow's deadline.

Mark Gilchrist, Columbia Radio News



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