The numbers were obtained through a partnership with the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted telephone interviews with a random selection of residents regarding food affordability and other hunger-related issues in 2011.
Sister Mary Maloney, executive director of the Park Slope Christian Help Center, which opened in 1971, said her food pantry and soup kitchen saw a greater influx of people in 2011 than in the last 40 years.
“We have found the last year an increase of not only people coming in numbers, but also just the hunger they experience,” she said. “They haven't had breakfast, they won't have supper.”
According to the numbers, nearly one in four Brooklyn residents, or 23 percent (572,000 people), live below the federal poverty level - $18,500 for a family of three – up from 22 percent in 2009.
More than one in three Brooklyn residents, or 34 percent, have trouble affording food.
To stretch resources and money, nearly two out of five Brooklyn residents, or 39 percent, ate smaller meals, and one in five skipped them altogether.
In addition, nearly one in five Brooklyn residents paid rent instead of grocery shopping, one in five paid utilities, and nearly seven in 10, or 13 percent, paid for medicine or medical bills instead of food.
In Queens, more than one out of seven residents, or 15 percent (332,000 people), live below the federal poverty level, up from 13 percent in 2009. More than one in three Queens residents, or 36 percent, struggle to afford food.
To stretch resources or food money, nearly two in five Queens residents bought less food, more than one in three ate smaller meals, and one in four, or 23 percent, skipped them altogether.
In addition, one in five Queens residents, or 20 percent, paid rent instead of bought food, one in five paid utilities or for transportation, and almost one in five paid for medicine or medical care instead of food.
Maloney said she can see a visible concern among the patrons of her center. She said the biggest population increase is among young people who lost their jobs or graduated college and can't find work, and are coming to the food pantry for bags of groceries.
“And on top of that, young married couples, they have their families to support,” Maloney said.
“They don't want to come in and sit down beside homeless people, but they all come to the pantry,” she said. “Every Friday there definitely is an increase of people wanting to take home a bag of groceries.”
Maloney also said that her center's shelter for teenage pregnant mothers is filled to the brim, and that those in crisis must be referred to other shelters.
Maloney expressed concern about the impoverished population, stressing that the city is in a serious crisis.
“Especially when you see families with young children,”she said, “it's really heartbreaking.”