A Survivor-Centered Approach to Food Insecurity During COVID-19

With the support of our corporate and institutional partners, from mid-March through October, Sanctuary distributed over $250,000 to more than 425 families for emergency food, supplies, rent, medicine, clothing, and more.

Food insecurity, an important risk indicator for intimate partner violence (IPV), has skyrocketed over the last year due to COVID-19. The ongoing loss of jobs and wages, coupled with safety and mobility issues, has forced thousands of households across New York to cut down on the quantity and quality of their food consumption. The closures of NYC schools and the overburdening of food banks have further exacerbated the demand for food and groceries. As a result, roughly one in four New Yorkers is experiencing hunger.

For many survivors, food insecurity was already an issue before the pandemic. Researchers have found a strong connection between IPV and food insecurity. Evidence shows that:

  1. Financial abuse – or the control of one’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money by an intimate partner – can lead to food insecurity;
  2. Survivors who escape abuse disproportionately rely on public assistance and low-wage jobs for survival and thus face a higher risk of food insecurity;
  3. Factors that give rise to food insecurity, such as poverty and financial stress, also serve as indicators for increased risk of violence.

As one of New York State’s leading providers of comprehensive services for survivors of gender violence, Sanctuary plays a critical role in helping New York’s most marginalized families find and maintain safety and stability. We have always had clients who struggle to afford or access food while escaping abusive relationships. Since mid-March, however, we have seen food insecurity skyrocket to become the single most pressing need for the thousands of families we serve.

Some food resources have become more accessible in NYC than in the first months of the crisis, however, there are still many barriers to food security for our clients including:

  1. Ongoing job loss and lost wages;
  2. Undocumented and partially-documented immigrant clients cut out of public resources and continued fear of ICE raids in public spaces like food banks;
  3. Limited options and timing restrictions for those who do qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits;
  4. Long lines, pre-selected options, and limited hours and locations for food banks making access difficult for clients with limited mobility, childcare concerns, inflexible work hours, and dietary issues.
  5. Additionally, the looming housing crisis will undoubtedly exacerbate food insecurity for many forced to choose between paying rent and buying food.

Recognizing the urgency of the issue, we have kept food pantries at our five shelters and main office fully stocked throughout the pandemic. To meet the increased demand, support non-shelter clients, and protect the safety of clients and staff throughout COVID-19, we have developed a more flexible and survivor-centered approach to food grant distribution. New standardized guidelines for distribution of food grants, developed by staff across program and administrative departments, are based on household size and receipt of SNAP. We also created a shorter, digitized grant request process that improves transparency, enables remote access, allows for easier purchasing via credit card, and gets money for food into the hands of our clients more quickly. Most importantly, we dramatically expanded use of electronic gift cards and grocery delivery services.

We are proud to announce that through this new approach, and with the support of our corporate and institutional partners, from mid-March through October, Sanctuary distributed over $250,000 to more than 425 families for emergency food, supplies, rent, medicine, clothing, and more via electronic gift cards and delivery services like Amazon Prime, Walmart, Fresh Direct, and Target. By expanding the receipt and delivery options available to survivors, our approach recognizes that clients know what is best for their families—whether that be culturally-specific foods or more dietary options. This approach also addresses the inequities that result in food deserts and delivery dead-zones in some communities — inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Even with the successful delivery of our services and our significantly expanded emergency food grants program over the last nine months, we know that demand will only keep growing. Given the spike in domestic violence and ongoing economic crisis, we anticipate a long-term need for support and services even after the city reopens. Despite the ongoing challenges, Sanctuary will continue to utilize existing private funding sources and identify new opportunities to meet our clients’ evolving food needs throughout and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Our sincere gratitude goes out to The Gerstner Family Foundation, Robin Hood Relief Fund, NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund, Brooklyn Community Foundation, No Kid Hungry, Tikkun Olam Foundation, Capital One, Monday.com, the Sunshine Foundation, and French-American Aid for Children, for supporting Sanctuary’s client emergency grants programs during these unprecedented times.

Our Work Continues Beyond January 20th

“While we continue to process and reckon with the state of our country, now is also the time we must recommit to the work of ending violence and oppression in all forms,” says Sanctuary ED Judy H. Kluger.

What we witnessed in our nation’s capital last Wednesday was a disgraceful act of treason, a terrifying display of white supremacy and anti-Semitism, a clear example of white male privilege, and the greatest attack on our democracy that many of us have seen in our lifetimes.

While we continue to process and reckon with the state of our country, now is also the time we must recommit to the work of ending violence and oppression in all forms. What occurred on January 6th is the product of 245 years of systemic racism and mirrors American history. On the same day that the remarkable mobilization of Black and Brown voters resulted in the historic election of Georgia’s first Black and Jewish senators, white insurrectionists, falsely claiming voter fraud in cities with large Black and Brown populations, carried confederate flags through the halls of the Capitol for the first time in our country’s history. The forces of white supremacy and patriarchy will continue to exert themselves long after January 20th when the Biden-Harris administration begins.

So our work continues, with renewed urgency. The next four years have the potential to be transformational but only with concerted attention and effort. For over 35 years, Sanctuary for Families has been there for survivors of gender-based violence — providing the tools and support survivors need to reunite and protect their families, secure safe and permanent housing, attain living-wage career-track jobs and become leaders in their communities. Our support and advocacy will continue with a special focus on:

  • The immediate end of asylum policies instituted by the Trump administration, the reinstatement of DACA, and comprehensive immigration reform to benefit our clients, over 70% of whom are immigrants.
  • State legislation that will deliver greater social services and protections to people in the sex trade, a population that is disproportionately made up of Black and Brown women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants.
  • Implementation of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, a New York State law that grants judges the discretion to sentence survivors, whose abuse or exploitation was a significant contributing factor to the crime they committed, to reduced or alternative sentencing.
  • Sanctuary’s survivor leadership policies to ensure survivor voices are reflected at all levels, including our Board of Directors.
  • Sanctuary’s anti-racism work and review of our accountability, hiring, and compensation policies.

I urge each of you to consider how you can counter the forces of white supremacy and patriarchy which give rise to gender-based violence. Take a look at this guide from Indivisible for suggestions on addressing racism and implicit bias within you and your communities. If you aren’t already involved, reach out to us to learn more about how you can support survivors of abuse.

Warmly,

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger,
Executive Director

The Vicente Foundation and Marquis Studios Bring Impactful Arts Program to Survivors

Thanks to The Vicente Foundation and Marquis Studios, Sanctuary has been able to offer families new and fun opportunities for creativity and family bonding despite the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Art has always been an essential tool for promoting healing and facilitating bonding within families who are recovering from abuse. Artistic expression fosters a sense of well-being and comfort in the midst of uncertainty and offers an alternative form of communication. For survivors processing feelings of isolation, depression, and fear during COVID-19, having access to the full range of therapy, including art therapy, has been more important than ever. Thanks to a partnership with Marquis Studios, Sanctuary has been able to offer these crucial services to families virtually.

Founded in 1977, Marquis Studios’ staff of skilled teaching artists provides a full spectrum of arts experiences to 40,000 participants each year, including education services in more than 170 New York City public schools. These programs are designed to integrate culturally responsive arts activities with instruction in academic or social and emotional subjects. Marquis Studios’ planning process is individualized for each residency, offered in-person or remotely, with teaching artists, teachers, and other facilitators meeting to discuss goals prior to session planning. Marquis’ program with Sanctuary likewise offers tailored instruction to best meet the needs of Sanctuary clients.

The Sanctuary and Marquis partnership consists of 10 virtual workshops that began in October and run through December. Each workshop caters to 10 families with young children and focuses on a different artistic skill or activity. The visual and performing arts disciplines covered in the sessions include paper collage, drawing, painting, bookmaking, paper sculpture, puppetry, mixed visual arts, hip hop dance, and African dance.

Reflecting on the workshops she observed, Kimberly Roman, Sanctuary’s children & family services program coordinator, shared,

“Marquis Studios has provided families with fun ways to engage with each other and express themselves. Participants encourage and celebrate each other and the facilitator is also very kind and engaging. Every week the activities are new, interesting and appropriately challenging.”

Sanctuary’s partnership with Marquis Studios was made possible by a donation from The Harriet and Esteban Vicente Foundation. Jennifer Stein of the Vicente Foundation notes,

“The Harriet and Esteban Vicente Foundation is proud to support the groundbreaking art education program run by Marquis Studios for Sanctuary for Families. It is our belief that art brings joy and healing.”

Thanks to The Vicente Foundation and Marquis Studios, Sanctuary has been able to offer families new and fun opportunities for creativity and family bonding despite the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanctuary Announces New Co-Chair of the Pro Bono Council

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of December 2020, Victoria Abraham, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, is serving as PBC Co-Chair.

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of December 2020, Victoria Abraham, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP,  is serving as PBC Co-Chair along with Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, who has served as PBC Co-Chair since January 2019.

Victoria succeeds Louisa Irving, who served as Co-Chair of the PBC from January 2018 to October 2020.  We are very grateful for Louisa’s outstanding dedication and leadership over the past two years.

About the PBC

The PBC was formed in 2003 as the Associate’s Committee, later changed to the Pro Bono Council and currently known as the PBC, with the goal of bringing together young professionals committed to supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary through active community engagement, pro bono projects, and client-centered events. The PBC currently has approximately 25 active members. Each fall, the PBC hosts the Above and Beyond benefit, an event that supports the Legal Center by honoring the pro bono lawyers and other volunteers who have worked on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients during the past year. This year’s Above & Beyond event raised over $200,000 in support of the Legal Center.

Introducing Victoria

Victoria has been passionate about gender equality and gender-based violence since college. She first learned about Sanctuary while at Harvard Law School during a class on sex equality taught by feminist scholar and activist Catharine MacKinnon. After graduating and joining Skadden as an associate in the Mergers and Acquisitions group, she connected with Sanctuary and became part of the PBC in 2016.

Victoria studied journalism and Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and it was her experiences working at a radio station in Gulu, Uganda after graduating that inspired her to pursue a law degree.

“Working and living in Uganda made me realize that I wanted to have a more substantive understanding of how the law shapes society,” she recounts. “In my reporting, I came across situations where it seemed like Ugandan women and girls seemed to not be able to enjoy the same rights of citizenship as Ugandan men and the law seemed essential for understanding why that was the case.” Through her work at the radio station reporting on various aspects of life in Gulu, Uganda, Victoria realized that she was not satisfied with only telling someone’s story but that she also wanted to have tangible, lasting positive impacts on people’s lives. Her experience in Gulu inspired Victoria to spend her 1L summer at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, where she had the opportunity to work on a class action case on the denial of Anti-Retroviral treatment to women working in the sex industry.

She has continued to passionately pursue this goal through her pro bono work, where her focus is predominantly on immigration matters. Her fluency in Russian enables her to work with LGBTQ asylum seekers and Violence Against Women Act clients from Russia and former Soviet Union countries.

“Working with pro bono clients is very rewarding because you get to help an extremely strong person who has gone through a lot. It’s so rewarding to build relationships with clients and give them a chance to make their life what they want it to be.” — Victoria.

Victoria also brings new insight to her pro bono work through her background in journalism, as demonstrated by her empathetic approach to interviewing clients and crafting compelling stories that are true to their experiences.

An active member of the PBC, Victoria served as Co-chair of the Above and Beyond Gala for the past two years and is eager to take on this new leadership role. Her goals for her time as PBC Co-chair include positioning the PBC as an anti-racist arm of Sanctuary and increasing the council’s diversity. She also hopes to increase membership engagement across the board. Ultimately, she wants the PBC to be a vibrant, constructive community that showcases all of Sanctuary’s invaluable work.

Please join us in welcoming Victoria as PBC Co-chair!