Danielle Stelluto does a lot for her two children. When she can, she takes them to the aquarium and the zoo. She takes them to parks and museums.
But there are times when she struggles to give her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old and daughter a basic necessity: food. “Hunger is a reality, it’s an issue,” she said.
Her story might surprise Bill O’Reilly. Earlier this week, the Fox News host of The O’Reilly Factor claimed that there are no hungry children, including in New York City, one of the country’s most expensive cities. “This myth that there are kids who don’t have anything to eat is a total lie… It is absolutely a total lie on a mass level,” he said. When his guest, Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, argued there are in fact children whose parents struggle to buy food in New York City, he responded, “You produce one. You produce one. You can’t.”
Stelluto could show him at least two. She’s been living in a homeless shelter in the South Bronx for four years after a rental voucher she was using was rescinded by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). “Things are a little tight here,” she said. “There’s been many times that I have struggled” to afford food for her and her two kids, she added. The price of food in the city is high. A single-parent family with two children like Stelluto’s can expect to spend $584 a month on food, and it eats up nearly 12 percent of families’ budges.
And while Stelluto has some supports, they aren’t always enough. Sometimes her monthly allocation of food stamps don’t come through due to an error or glitch. Even when she gets the full allotment, they often get used up before the end of the month, “even if I’m budgeting correctly and doing everything I can,” she said. Friends try to help her buy food when she can’t, but they aren’t always able to.
Those are the times when her family has to rely on other sources to eat. “There are times I would go to food pantries most days of the week,” she said. Sometimes they go to soup kitchens for a hot meal. “That’s been my experience throughout the system,” she said.
Hers is not a unique situation, however. Between 2011 and 2013, more than 1.4 million people in New York City, including a quarter of the city’s children, lived in a household that didn’t have sufficient food. An estimated 14 percent of households throughout the country experienced food insecurity at some point last year.
Stelluto sees it daily. “It’s very hard out here to afford food,” she said. “I see it all the time, especially living in the shelter… People are struggling, it’s a reality.”
Her family faces other struggles too. Living in a shelter isn’t easy on her children. “Space is so important, but they don’t have their own rooms,” she explained. “I don’t have a bathtub either, I have a shower head. Just certain things that a kid is used to seeing when we were in a house.” They constantly ask her if and when they can move out, and while she’s on the waiting list to get a spot in public housing or supportive housing, she’s still waiting.
She worries how it will all impact them as they grow up. She takes them to therapy to work through the emotional and mental stains. “I’m glad they’re small and will rise out of this,” she noted. “But it still does affect them emotionally in many ways.”