Thursday, July 25

Kathy Goldman, Who Fought Hunger in New York City, Dies at 92

Kathy Goldman, who devoted her career as a civic leader to establishing food banks, pantries and free breakfast and lunch programs in public schools to sustain low-income New Yorkers, died on March 5 in Brooklyn. She was 92.

The cause of death, in a hospital, was congestive heart failure, her daughter, Julie Goldman, said.

Combating malnourishment, Ms. Goldman was determined to confront collective indifference, which she felt had contributed to the Holocaust. Over five decades she worked with many collaborators to successfully lobby for federal subsidies like food stamps and nutrition assistance for women, children and infants; create partnerships between local communities and corporate providers of provisions; and expand the mandate of anti-hunger programs to include help with housing, health care, education and other needs.

In 1980, she founded the Community Food Resource Center, a food pantry, as a buffer against stricter eligibility requirements for welfare. Three years later, she helped organize what is now the Food Bank for New York City, which has served scores of soup kitchens and food pantries around the city from the Hunts Point market in the Bronx. She was the center’s executive director until she retired in 2003.

In 1984, she started the Community Kitchen of West Harlem, an innovative program that not only offered food but also helped the hungry with other needs, including housing and health care. After renovations to the dining area, “when a 10-year-old boy exclaimed, ‘It’s just like McDonald’s!’ Goldman ‘considered it the greatest compliment of all time coming from a kid,’” Lana Dee Povitz wrote in “Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice” (2019).

In the early 1990s, Ms. Goldman persuaded the city to open school cafeterias in Chinatown and Harlem in the evenings to serve dinners to older adults.

“She was the single most important voice fighting hunger in New York for 50 years,” Fran Barrett, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s interagency coordinator for nonprofit organizations, said by email, “and the first to focus on food in schools, which resulted in literally thousands of kids actually eating the food as opposed to throwing it out.”

In creating federal school breakfast and summer meals programs in New York, Ms. Goldman “hired people who had expertise and got out of their way,” said Ms. Barrett, who had been one of her collaborators (along with Liz Krueger, who would become a state senator, and Mary McCormick of the Fund for the City of New York).

In 2002, Ms. Goldman was invited to carry the Olympic torch for a quarter-mile in New York, and, in 2012, she was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House as a “champion of change” for helping to reduce hunger in America.

After she retired from the food center, she and Agnes Molnar founded Community Food Advocates in 2009 to lobby for universal school lunch and other government strategies to meet the nutritional needs of Americans.

As Ms. Goldman often said: “Tomorrow morning, if the will were there, we would not have to have any hunger. There’s no dearth of food.”

In 2022, she moved to a retirement community in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

Catherine Vera Friedman (she later changed her name to Kathryn, after the actress Kathryn Grayson) was born on Jan. 15, 1932, in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Her mother, Ila (Goldman) Friedman, was a writer who founded a Hungarian women’s magazine. Her father, Samuel, was a cabinet maker and secretary-treasurer of his union.

After graduating among the first group of girls admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, three blocks from her home, she became the first in her family to go to college, studying film at New York University then briefly attending City College and Hunter College. In 1986, she earned a master’s degree in urban studies from Queens College of the City University of New York.

In 1949, Ms. Goldman traveled to Budapest, where she worked as a translator at the World Youth Festival; at college she joined the Labor Youth League, which had been established by the Communist Party (although she later said she balked at the red flag-wavers’ self-importance, dogmatism and denigration of women); and took courses in Marxism and Black history at the Jefferson School of Social Science, once described in The Times as “the principal training center for Communists and Communist sympathizers in this city.”

She and her husband, Jack Goldman, were active in the Urban League’s campaign against racial discrimination in housing. She also joined a group of white middle-class parents who supported school desegregation.

In 1966, Ms. Goldman and another activist, Ellen Lurie, compared the reading test scores of every school in the city and publicized them as evidence that Black students were receiving an inferior education.

She and Evelina Antonetty organized to improve South Bronx public schools, developing a bilingual training initiative for adults through United Bronx Parents and introducing a federally financed free summer meals program for children in 1971; she helped draft regulations when the program was expanded nationally in 1979.

Ms. Goldman and her husband divorced in 1974. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her sons, Joseph and Robert Goldman; five grandsons; and two great-grandsons. Most of her relatives who remained in Europe after her parents emigrated — her father from Slovakia and her mother from Hungary — were killed in the Holocaust.

“I was really raised to believe that if more people had said something, then the Holocaust would not have happened,” Ms. Goldman’s daughter quoted her as saying. “If there would have been a fight back, it would have been mitigated. I believe that till this day. You can do something. You can make a difference, you can make a change.”