Food Pantries for College Degrees

Working, Middle Class Long Islanders Turning to Food Pantries

By Ellen Yan
March 31, 2008

These days, food pantries aren’t just for the jobless or homeless.

Tapping such free resources has turned into a survival tactic for some working members of the middle class as they struggle with an economy that has put them in a bind.

A father of three, Bill makes more than $70,000 a year. But after his mortgage rate reset in October, hiking his payments from $3,300 to $4,300, he began going to his church’s food pantry.

“I sat here at home and argued with my wife about who’s going,” said Bill, a Nassau County employee who asked not to be identified further. “I tried to go to work that day. … It’s very embarrassing.

“Here I’m making a decent salary. I’m a professional, but I can’t even feed my kids.”

More and more working Long Islanders are straining to put groceries on the table as many essentials — milk and bread, fuel oil, gasoline and health care premiums — have climbed faster than the Consumer Price Index. In some cases, they’re people daunted by the steep rise in property taxes or payments on their adjustable-rate mortgages.

These new hard times have turned some past donors into today’s receivers of charity. The number of people seeking help is up even as donations are down. Food collected from restaurants and supermarkets by the Mineola-based Island Harvest dropped from 7 million pounds in 2006 to 6.5 million last year, and the agency has started pressing more farmers to help fill the hole.

While no agency keeps statistics for food pantries across Long Island, some operators find they’re facing double the number of clients from a year ago.

“We’re seeing folks that may own a home, who may be working two or three jobs, but are not able to cover all the costs that they’ve incurred,” said Gwen O’Shea, president of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, a social services advocacy group.

–Continued at Long Island Cares (originally published by Newsday)


Lots of Long Islanders discuss the issue at Topix (443 comments and counting)


Long Island Suburb

Long Island Suburb

From The Nation — “The New Suburban Poverty” — selected excerpts:

Last December the Brookings Institution published a report showing that from Las Vegas to Boise to Houston, suburban poverty has been growing over the past seven years, in some places slowly, in others by as much as 33 percent. “The enduring social and fiscal challenges for cities that stem from high poverty are increasingly shared by their suburbs,” the report concludes. It’s a problem some may assume is confined to the ragged fringes of so-called “inner ring” suburbs that directly border cities, places where the housing stock is older and from which many wealthier residents long ago departed. But this isn’t the case. “Overall…first suburbs did not bear the brunt of increasing suburban poverty in the early 2000s,” notes the Brookings report, which found that economic distress has spread to “second-tier suburbs and ‘exurbs'” as well.

The result is a historic milestone that has gone strangely ignored: For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined. …

What you’ll also see are people like the day laborers who gather every morning in the parking lots of the Home Depots in Nassau County, Long Island, where the median family income is $87,558 and the overall poverty rate is fairly low, but where the demand for food stamps has increased by 40 percent since 2003. …

Price used to make $15 an hour, with health benefits and vacation days. What he’s hoping to avoid is the fate of people like Jodi Wilmouth, whom I met at the Rockingham County Red Cross, which opened a food pantry several years ago in a low-slung brick building in Eden. Wilmouth earns $6.25 an hour as a cashier at a local department store called Belk, which she said is not enough to cover her basic expenses. On the day she dropped by, President Bush was visiting a Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Illinois. He later said that in today’s economy “workers are making more money.” …

But the suburbs also have their disadvantages, among them the fact that getting anywhere generally requires a car. There’s no public transportation system in most outlying suburban areas, which is why the people who show up at the food pantry at the Red Cross in Rockingham County often carpool to get there, cramming one person each from four or five families into a single vehicle to save gas. Then, too, the newness of suburban poverty means in many towns there’s a dearth of social service agencies to offer help. Nearly 7,000 people showed up at the food pantry last year, a sevenfold increase from 2000. “It’s overwhelming,” said Janna Nowell, the facility’s director. The day before I visited, the pantry ran out of food, a problem that’s become familiar in many suburban locales. “There’s a growing spatial gap between the providers and the people in need,” says Alan Berube. “Public hospitals, nutrition assistance programs–most of these things are still overwhelmingly urban. You see small-scale operations in suburbs getting inundated. They just can’t deal with the demand.” …

Unravel the thread linking suburbs to prosperity and something else begins to come undone: the story Republicans have told about how people living there, particularly those in the fastest-growing, furthest-outlying communities, are their natural constituents. “Democrats stink in the exurbs” is how conservative columnist Brooks put it some years ago, pointing to the strip-mall zones around Orlando, strong Jeb Bush territory, and to Mesa, Arizona, a booming area east of Phoenix. In these rapidly expanding communities, places where the parking lots of megachurches fill up every Sunday with SUVs, liberals just don’t have a clue what matters to people, Brooks implied. In the 2004 election, it appeared he was right: Republicans swept such areas, carrying a startling ninety-seven of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the country. In Democratic circles, panic ensued.

–Continued at The Nation.



Just the Facts, Ma’am?

Your hard news story lead answers the five W’s, yes, but without answering the “So what?” aspect, your story will read just like an item from the police blotter. What makes a news item go beyond just reporting the facts to become an actual news story?

You must find and focus on the angle that makes your crime, accident, or fire relevant to your readers. Otherwise, we could just read the police blotter to find out about the latest accidents at our local gas station or the fires that took place in the next town over.

Ask your news item to meet several of the following criteria to determine its newsworthiness:

a) Impact—How many people does the event affect? How seriously does it affect them?

b) Proximity—An event will be more important if is closer to the readers. An earthquake in a far-off land is not as interesting as one that is close to home.

c) Timeliness—Is the event fresh? Is it new? The news must be timely to be of use to readers.

d) Prominence—Names make news, and big names make big news. Ordinary people are intrigued by the doings of the rich and famous.

e) Novelty—This is the new in news, the unusual. The “firsts,” “lasts” and “onlys” have been the staples of the news business for many years.

f) Conflict—Conflict has been the currency of great literature, drama and movies for all time. From the stories of Shakespeare to those of Disney, conflict has played a crucial role. Newspapers are no different.

g) Audience—Who is the audience? The answer to that question helps determine whether an event is news at all, and if it is, where it will be played in the paper.


And a little more to think about from Cerritos:

Timeliness — Something that just happened tends to be more newsworthy than something that happened some time ago. In today’s fast-paced communications environment you want to give the reader a sense that this is news NOW. In fact, when you write a news story you want to make sure it has a news peg. Think of a peg on the wall that you might hang a hat on. The news peg is the element that you hang your story on. It is the element that makes the story news NOW, as opposed to last week or next week. Timeliness is often the news peg.

Impact — How many people are impacted by the story. The more the merrier. This might also be called the “Who Cares?” element I talked about earlier. The greater the impact, even if it is an old story, the more likely that it is newsworthy.

Prominence — Like it or not, prominent people make more news. When spousal abuse leads to one partner injuring or killing the other, it is sad. When one of those partners is O.J. Simpson, you have an international news story. When a married man has an extra-marital sexual relationship with a woman half his age, it is bad for a marriage. But if the man is Bill Clinton, president of the United States, it can affect the world’s economy. If the who of a story is someone well known, you might have a story in the most common place of events.

Proximity — The closer to home a story takes place, the more newsworthy it is. The local politics of a small town in New York probably would not affect or interest our readers, but certainly the local politics of our hometown would. Even if you have a major story break half way around the world look for a local angle. For instance, if a plane crashes and kills 200 people, it certainly is news. But if one of the passengers was local, or used to be local, or has local relatives, you have a new story angle. Even if you don’t have that kind of connection to the story, you can ask, “How safe are planes that fly out of the local airport? Could what happened there happen here?” It will bring the story home for the reader, who is more likely to read it and say “Gee Whiz!”

Conflict — Sad to say, but bad news is often more newsworthy than good news. When war breaks out, it is more newsworthy than when neighbors get along. Even stories about peace are more stories about war, or a lack of it. A car driving down the street is not news until it comes into conflict with a telephone pole or a pedestrian.

The Unusual — Pulitzer, Dana and others had the right idea about news, too. Something that is out of the ordinary is news. A pumpkin is not news, unless it is as big as a small car. We are obsessed with records, too, that indicate, the biggest, longest, shortest, smallest, tallest, shortest, etc. something. There are thousands of news stories in the Guinness Book of World Records because of our obsession. A major league baseball player hitting a lot of homeruns is interesting, but is international news when a mark McGwire closes in on and surpasses a 37-year-old record for the most homeruns in a season.

Currency — News can create itself, too. Currency is similar to timeliness. But currency grows from other news elements. Something maintains newsworthiness over time because it first was deemed newsworthy for some other reason. While the fall of the stock market and its impact on world economy may have been newsworthy for several of the reasons listed above, its effects remain newsworthy over time because now they are current events.


So What? SO WHAT!

The main idea of a news story and lead is called the “angle.”

It is also referred to in newsrooms as the “hook” because the angle is used to grab, or hook, the reader’s attention to make them want to read the rest of the student’s story.

Simply, it is the main point a student learned from their reporting and that the rest of their story will try to support.

Finding the angle of a news story forces a newswriter to be critical of a story idea and the reporting. A news writer will discover if there’s no angle in an idea or the facts that have been gathered before an editor, teacher or reader will.

Writing the lead and angle involves making some difficult decisions. A news writer must sort through the facts that were gathered from the reporting and decide what the theme is. There may be several different themes, but the writer must decide what the central theme of the story will be in the lead.

Then students must consider what form their story will take.

In sorting through a mass of material, Carman Cumming and Catherine McKercher of Carleton University tell reporters to think about “S-I-N” — which stands for Significant, Interesting and New. Students should look for either of those three things from their research and interviews and they will be able to find a compelling angle for their lead.


The late Walter Steigleman, a journalism teacher in Iowa, told his students to look for the WHAMMY. He explained that the whammy is the single fact that makes your story unique.

Consider the following example, based on a radio interview with Vern Walters of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with CBC’s As It Happens in early March 1996:

Vern Walters, a third-generation blacksmith from Lunenburg, has decided to retire and has put his shop up for sale, closing a 120-year-old family-owned business.

That lead has all the required elements. But a “whammy” is provided when it is learned that Mr. Walters is probably Canada’s only working maritime blacksmith — a blacksmith trained to do special blacksmithing to build and repair boats:

Vern Walters, one of Canada’s last remaining maritime blacksmiths, has put his shop in Lunenburg up for sale, closing a family- owned business begun 120 years ago by his grandfather.

That story also illustrates the human interest story, which focuses on an interesting or unique person.

The only way to really understand leads and angles is to try writing one. News writing is like learning to play a musical instrument — the more you practice, the easier it gets and the better you become.

“Angle” and “Whammy” taken from Journalism Toolbox.