Upper West Side Mending Lab

Ripped jeans, tattered T-shirts, a moth-eaten sweater, even beloved stuffed animals – all found their way to a one-day pop-up at the shuttered Steven Alan clothing store on Amsterdam Avenue near West 82nd Street.

Graduate students Tara Maurice and Tianyue “Caroline” Zhang hosted the workshop for their thesis called “Pretty/Ugly: Fashion, Waste & Consumption.” Their research for a Masters in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts focuses on the economic, environmental and human costs of “fast-fashion.” They billed the Sept. 29th event as a way to learn a valuable life skill, while meeting friends, neighbors and others concerned about clothing waste.

“Jeans get better as they get older, right?” said one woman, who spotted the Mending Lab poster and returned with several damaged goods. “It’s always the one you love the most that gets the hole.”

Standing over a sewing machine, Maurice, a former fashion executive, revived piles of shirts and pants that would have become garbage. She sewed cloth patches on the inside to stabilize giant holes, before creating a web of stitching on the outside.

“In terms of solid waste, we basically throw away most of what we buy within a year of its original purchase. So, knowing that and being a designer, it got hard to be a designer,” said Maurice, who lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and children. “I’m trying to do a different kind of designing, which is designing a solution.”

“Extend the Life-Cycle”

The women hung samples of potential art-messaging around the room. “Fashion now is a system that makes things for consumers to throw away,” read one poster, a photo of scavengers on a landfill. Another showed two well-dressed women in winter coats, and a recent claim, “80 pounds: the amount of shoes and clothing the average Western consumer discards per year.”

Caroline Zhang hovered over a growing group of novices and veterans, demonstrating various hand-stitching techniques for mending tears, closing holes and reinforcing frayed seams.

“We buy things and just give them away, so I think it is important for us, not to make a new life, but to extend the life-cycle of all the stuff we’ve bought,” said Zhang, who studied sociology in China before interning at several fashion magazines.

“I can’t find it!” said Mary Beth Lumley, marveling at a once-visible hole in her favorite cardigan. “It’s a nice sweater, and I haven’t had the heart to throw it away or recycle it. I didn’t want to give it to Good Will or Salvation Army because there was a hole in it.”

A Social Experience

Others chose “visible mending,” a technique that uses decorative fabrics and elaborate stitching to show off repairs. Some say renewed interest in this technique is a deliberate rejection of cheap, disposable “fast-fashion,” along with a move toward owning fewer things and living in smaller spaces.

In no time, veterans were helping beginners, and novices were sharing their newfound skills with each other. The social nature of the pop-up surprised several people who grew up mending their belongings at home, often out of necessity.

“This is just great, to get together with other people out to repair things, plus to raise my consciousness about the clothing industry, which I never thought about,” said Amy Stone, an Upper West Sider who learned the skill as a Girl Scout.

“We want to create community where people can connect with each other by doing things with [their] hands, together,” said Zhang. “Not that we persuade people to say ‘you should not buy things.’ It’s impossible. But by making people get together, we … make things happen.”

Financial Opportunity

There’s much to be done right here. The average New Yorker tosses out 46 pounds of clothing and other textiles, or nearly 200,000 tons annually, according the City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY). This fiscal year, DSNY budgeted more than $412 million to export its garbage to landfills as far away as South Carolina. In 2016, it launched “donateNYC, ” an initiative to prevent reusable electronics, furniture and other items from entering the waste stream. Last year the program diverted more than 11,500 tons of textiles and clothing from landfills.

There’s also a growing financial opportunity in salvaging garments. The sanitation department’s “NYC Reuse Sector Report 2019” found 432 retailers and community organizations engaged in the reuse, recycling or resale of clothing, up from 375 in 2017. Recent surveys suggest more shoppers consider resale value when buying clothes, and big corporations are, at least, talking about “sustainable” production processes.

Zhang and Maurice say solutions will be difficult because the problems are so complex. The thesis of their graduate study remains a work in progress. But they were thrilled with the turnout at the Mending Lab. More than 30 people dropped in for a chance to learn – or remember – how to mend their garments using needles, thread and patches of recycled fabric. So many people took part – and wanted to stay so long – that the three-hour event went on for five hours.

For more information on NYC Sanitation Department’s reuse and recycling programs, visit:


“I’m trying to do a different kind of designing, which is designing a solution.” Graduate student Tara Maurice

Also published online and in print editions of Chelsea News, Our Town-East Sider, and Our Town-Downtown.

Will ‘Produce Prescriptions’ Show Healthy Returns?

Federal, private funders bet food-as-pharmacy programs will deliver healthcare cost savings

  • by Leslie Gersing, Contributing Writer September 25, 2019

When low-income patients with high blood pressure fill their prescriptions at certain New York City pharmacies, they walk away with $30 in vouchers to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables at the city’s farmer’s markets.

The city’s “Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions Program” has reached more than 1,000 hypertensive SNAP recipients since it launched in 2017, and has grown from 3 to 16 participating pharmacies. It is set to report outcomes data next year.

The program is supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is poised to make an even bigger impact on the food-as-pharmacy programs that have been growing in popularity. The 2018 Farm Bill established a national Produce Prescription Program that sets aside millions in grants each year.

With diet-related illnesses like heart disease and obesity costing hundreds of billions of dollars each year in the U.S., other funders are also expecting a healthy return-on-investment (ROI) in these programs, which means more initiatives like New York City’s may find the means to thrive.

USDA has been supporting projects to increase produce consumption among SNAP recipients since 2014, under the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (formerly the Food Insecurity Nutrition Initiative). The bill now guarantees GusNIP can administer $25 million in produce prescription grants — not just for SNAP-based programs — for the fiscal year beginning in 2018, jumping to $45 million for the 2019 fiscal year and rising to its cap of $56 million in 2023. The first grants will be awarded in October.

The Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, Virginia, currently receives funding from local businesses and philanthropies, but has applied for a federal grant. Its Fresh Farmacy program provides low-income patients who have chronic disease with produce from local farmers. Participants pick up their “shares” every other week during the growing season.

“We have seen first-hand the impact of incorporating healthy food to manage weight, maintain healthy blood glucose levels, and reduce the risk of diabetes complications,” said Patricia Polgar-Bailey, a nurse practitioner at the Charlottesville Free Clinic, which participates in Fresh Farmacy.

Federal dollars aren’t the only way to keep food-as-pharmacy programs afloat. Wholesome Wave, a non-profit that was co-founded by Gus Schumacher, has been supporting produce prescription projects since 2010.

Wholesome Wave gets money from philanthropies and corporate partners – including Target, Chobani, and Humana, to name a few – to foster such programs.

“There are non-profits and private-sector supporters trying to prove the model in the interest of getting insurers and the healthcare industry to really step up,” said Julie Peters, director of programs at Wholesome Wave.

An example of the organization’s support: it’s putting money into a produce prescriptions pilot for diabetes at Community Health and Wellness Partners (CHWP) in Logan County, Ohio, which is also supported by state and federal dollars.

Once a month, participants attend nutrition classes taught by staff dietitians, and subsequently receive vouchers for up to $120, depending on family size, to purchase produce at local grocery stores or farmer’s markets.

Among those who have completed three months of classes, HbA1c has already declined 0.6 percentage points on average, said Jason Martinez, a clinical pharmacist at CHWP who has analyzed preliminary data from the program.

Will these improvements translate to reduced healthcare costs? That has been the case at Geisinger Health System’s Fresh Food Farmacy initiative. The program focuses on patients with type 2 diabetes who experience food insecurity. In addition to 15 hours of disease and nutrition counseling, participants get enough healthy food for 5 days of the family’s weekly meals.

Over 18 months, participants’ HbA1c levels fell 2.1 points on average, compared with declines of 0.5-1.2 points for those taking two or three medications only. Along with improvements in weight, cholesterol, and hypertension, that has translated to an 80% drop in healthcare spending for 37 of about 200 participants who were insured by Geisinger, according to early data.

“We know the cost of the program, all-in, for the food and the clinical care is around $2,500, so it’s reasonable to assume that there’s an ROI that we would experience with that,” said Allison Hess, vice president of health and wellness at Geisinger. She’s hopeful that ROI will convince insurance companies “to potentially fund this as part of a benefit package.”

Similarly — albeit hypothetically — a recent simulation study of Medicare and Medicaid recipients predicted that providing a 30% subsidy on fruits and vegetables would prevent nearly 2 million cardiovascular events and save almost $40 billion in annual healthcare costs.


Rx for Fruits and Veggies

PUBLISHED AUG 2, 2019 AT 2:58 PM (UPDATED AUG 2, 2019)

NYC pharmacies fill “prescriptions” for greenmarket produce for low-income residents with high blood pressure

NYC Health Department Flyer

“Pharmacists, we found, were really excited to talk, not just about medication, but also about changes that people can make in their life for their health.”

Jeni Clapp, director of nutrition policy and programs, NYC Department of Health

Your next drugstore refill could include a “prescription” for free fruit and vegetables. The New York City Health Department is expanding its “Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions” program, to increase access to fresh produce for low-income New Yorkers with high blood pressure.

One in four New York City adults have high blood pressure, a leading cause of death, says the Health Department. Eating fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease.

Now 16 independent pharmacies in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens will provide customers with monthly “farm prescriptions,” that are good for $30 worth of produce at designated, local farmers markets. Enrollment is open to adults who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and take blood pressure medication. Customers must sign up, and fill their prescriptions, at a participating drugstore. The pilot started in 2017 with three pharmacies, and grew to 10 last year.

In a survey of current enrollees, 61 percent said they worried about hunger after their monthly benefits ran out, and 80 percent said fruits and vegetables cost too much.

 “We wanted to find a way to extend people’s food budgets, particularly for people who are at risk for diet-related chronic disease. So we looked for people who were on blood pressure medication,” said Jeni Clapp, the Health Department’s Director of Nutrition Policy and Programs.  

The pilot targeted independent pharmacies, because most of them are located in low-income neighborhoods and serve people of color, Clapp said.

 “They are available long hours, people can go to them without appointments. Many people have seen the same pharmacist for years, and pharmacists, we found, were really excited to talk, not just about medication, but also about changes that people can make in their life for their health,” she said.

“We’ve noticed a lot of people, getting the $30 for their fruits and vegetables, actually coming back to the pharmacy, and we’ve noticed that it’s changed their diet a lot,” says Victor Domenech, pharmacy technician at QuickRx UWS on Columbus Avenue at 104th Street, which joined the pilot last year.

The “farm prescriptions” give customers an incentive to stay on their medications, eat less salt and fried and focus on their health, says Domenench.  He has convinced some to walk to the West 97 Street Greenmarket.

 “The main reason for this program is for us to review the patients’ way of living while they are on blood pressure medications,” said Zami Yasin at his family-owned New York City Pharmacy, on First Avenue in the East Village.  Returning participants also get an “award” of healthier food that’s always within their budgets, he said.  

 “It’s been astounding and really exciting to be able to introduce people to the market, show them what’s in season, show them how to prepare it healthfully — we always have gobs of free recipes. And  then, they have $30 they can spend on fruits and vegetables that are offered,” said Cheryl Huber, Greenmarket Assistant Director at GrowNYC.

“The whole thing has really been a positive experience for the Pharmacy to Farm participants, our staff, and the farmers, who see a nice boost in income from this program,” Huber said.

So far, $80,000 in Pharmacy to Farm prescriptions have been issued to 850 participants. Nearly 90 percent get redeemed. 

The Health Department is compiling data on the health effects of the pilot program, based in part on monthly questionnaires that pharmacy clients fill out when they get medications refilled. The Health Department hopes to release its findings next year. 

Published in print and online at The Spirit, Chelsea News, and Our Town

Trump Administration’s Food Stamp Move Could Cost City Economy $150M


New York City grocers could lose millions monthly in federal food-stamp proposal

March 14, 2019 03:44 PM

City grocers could stand to lose millions of dollars in monthly sales under the Trump administration’s proposal to cut food stamps for adults without minor children, city officials said.

About 75,000 city residents who receive an average $150 in monthly food benefits, would be affected, according to the city’s Department of Social Services.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in December proposed restricting states’ power to waive time limits for such adults, ages 18 to 49.

Currently, SNAP is capped at three months over a three-year period unless people work or get job training at least 80 hours per month. But states can waive time limits if unemployment is relatively high or jobs are scarce. New York exempts the Bronx, northern Manhattan and parts of Queens.

The proposal would limit waivers to cities and counties where unemployment tops 7%. The city’s jobless rate is 4.1%.

Fewer SNAP users “would have a huge effect on our business,” said Pedro Guzman, manager of the Super Value Meat Market in Manhattan, “because the majority of our customers do have SNAP.” The store cut employees’ hours when SNAP benefits were reduced in the past, Guzman said.

Some 9,400 city retailers redeemed $2.8 billion in SNAP benefits last year, state data show. Around 80% are small businesses.

                                                                       [for more]


Early food stamp benefits due to shutdown

Early food stamp benefits due to shutdown

PUBLISHED JAN 18, 2019 AT 2:49 PM (UPDATED JAN 18, 2019)

February SNAP payments issued early but have to last through end of next month

Most food stamp benefits for February became available on Thursday, January 17, as a result of the federal government shutdown, worrying New York City and state officials that the money will be spent too quickly to last through next month. They’re not even sure March benefits will be paid out at all.

NY Common Pantry case manager with guests
Photo Courtesy: NY Common Pantry

State and City officials warn that the 2.7 million New Yorkers who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP, could get their electronic payment ahead of schedule, mistake it as a bonus, and use it up all at once. [MORE]


New York’s Hungry Will Benefit from a Byproduct of Trump’s Trade War

The president seen signing a trade deal with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. His administration has purchased food from U.S. farmers hurt by the tariffs and is donating some of it to food assistance programs. Photo: The White House

Convoys of trucks will arrive as early Monday, December 17, with the first special delivery of more than $12.7 million worth of meat, fresh produce, and other food, for New York State’s hungriest residents.

Through March 2019, twice-monthly shipments to the state’s eight regional food banks, will reach “over 2,500 soup kitchens/pantries in all 62 counties,” said Joseph Brillo, spokesman for the New York State Office of General Services in an email.

Under the $12 billion Trade Mitigation package the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled in July, the USDA agreed to purchase food from farmers and producers, to compensate them for losses due to the Trump Administration’s tariff wars with China, NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, and other nations. USDA designated $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and child nutrition programs. [Continued at City Limits]