"I thought there's got to be other people with worse situations in their kitchen than mine and what are we going to do with all this? Then I thought of the words blizzard leftovers," Michelsen-Correa said.
The 30-year-old created www.blizzardleftovers.com and the accompanying Twitter handle @BlizzardLeftovers, with the goal of encouraging well-stocked New Yorkers to think of those less fortunate.
Spurred by warnings of a potentially historic storm, many in New York rushed to grocery stores anticipating being stuck at home for days. News reports featured images of bare shelves and lineups across the five boroughs. But the storm skirted around the city, bringing less than third of the predicted record snowfall, leaving many kitchens overflowing with basic goods.
"The idea is not just get rid of your leftovers from the blizzard, but it's to think about your local food pantry," Michelsen-Correa said. "There are many New Yorkers who don’t have leftovers from the storm, they don't have leftovers from their day to day."
She started by telling close friends, who then spread the word through their social media networks. The campaign's big break came when the New York Times picked up the story.
The campaign highlights the ability of New Yorkers to poke fun at themselves and laugh at their mistakes, including over-preparing for the storm, Michelsen-Correa.
Help needed throughout winter
"The next day you think 'Oh my god, why did we do that? That is ridiculous.' Let's laugh at ourselves and think of a way to make this mistake into something that is meaningful."
Stephen Grimaldi, executive director of New York Common Pantry in Harlem, welcomes the campaign.
"I hate to see people not use their food. Food being wasted is, in our field, something that makes us frustrated and sad because we see so many people needing the food," he said.
Grimaldi hasn't seen any storm donations yet, but said there is usually a lag between when campaigns like this start and when help arrives.
The timing of the campaign is important, he said. The number of donations and volunteers drops off after the holidays, but the need is still there, making January and February difficult months.
Grimaldi estimates the Common Pantry served 2.9 million meals to 45,000 people in 2014. This year, he expects 3.2 million meals will be served to 50,000 people.
Part of the increase is due to recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program previously referred to as food stamps. Grimaldi said that assistance generally doesn't last the entire month, so in the last week of the month people turn to food programs like the Common Pantry.
"I'm hoping that it's an opportunity for people to understand that hunger and food insecurity is a major issue in our communities and in our country and I'm hoping it raises some visibility," he said.
Michelsen-Correa said New Yorkers get a bad rap as being hostile and unwelcoming, but can actually be generous when called upon.
"I believe new Yorkers are full of warmth for the people around them and if you give them a mission or an idea or something to inspire them, they'll totally follow through."
She encourages those without leftovers to volunteer or make a cash donation to a local food bank or kitchen.
"We all have different leftovers, and it's not just physical food, whatever that means to you, it's up to you."Suggest a correction