Upper West Side residents voted to put money to work, electing for four projects to each receive a chunk of $1 million in city funds.
The winners of the so-called participatory budget process were a project to see safety measures improved on the Hudson Greenway bike path in Riverside Park, which received $200,000 dollars; countdown clocks at bus stops along the crosstown lines at 96th Street, 86th Street, 79th Street and 65th Street ($240,000); an athletic turf field at Martin Luther King High School ($300,000); and a mobile food pantry for truck for the West Side Campaign Against Hunger ($250,000).
The top vote getter, winning by almost 300 votes, was the mobile food pantry truck, which will be bought by the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, a longtime neighborhood staple. The campaign has been providing food to the neighborhood's needy within a supermarket-style setting, but sought a boost to reach more of the neighborhood's hungry. The truck will provide that, said Hannah Lupien, the campaign's policy director.
“We'd recognized for a number of years, really since the Great Recession began, that the number of people turning to us for food assistance and social services has grown by about 10 percent a year, and we are reaching the physical limitation of our capacity,” Lupien said. “We have been thinking of other ways to serve the hungry New Yorkers who need our help. The idea of a mobile food pantry has been with us for a long time. (District 6) Councilwoman (Helen) Rosenthal has been friend and supporter of us and suggested we take part in the participatory budget voting.”
When asked how they achieved such a massive turnout, Lupien said it was actually quite simple, “We let all of our neighbors on the Upper West Side know about the participatory budget and that if people knew they could help us in this way they would be excited to.”
Additionally, the pastor at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew as well as several parishioners where the pantry is located went to vote after Sunday services.
Lupien said that the truck has two goals: “It's a two-pronged focus, the first being providing the same high quality standard of care, meaning fresh fruits, fresh bread, lean meat, low fat and the second prong is to reach people who would have trouble getting to us otherwise.”
When asked about the truck's long term financial sustainability, Lupien said that the participatory budget money would only fund the purchase of the truck and the equipment to turn it into a mobile food pantry. “We have committed to maintaining the truck and we can do that with the help of our Upper West Side supporters,” she said.