Food Banks are seeing shortages as inflation continues and more families are in need of food

Food Banks

Revelations 18:23:’For the merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.’

Important Takeaways:

  • Food Banks and Pantries Facing Shortages as Demand Spikes, but ‘God Shows Up’
  • Food banks and pantries nationwide are struggling to keep up with demand. Soaring food prices combined with fewer donations are leading to thinly stocked shelves. The impact is making it more challenging to feed the hungry, especially this time of year.
  • Pastor Stephanie Parker of The Gathering at Scott Memorial United Methodist Church told CBN News.
  • For the past ten years, the church has hosted Fresh Food Wednesdays, an outreach distributing food to the community’s working poor.
  • “Every week we hit a new record of new families,” said Parker. “Many have tears in their eyes as they thank us and also as they say, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever needed this.'”
  • According to Feeding America President Katie Fitzgerald, “High prices will continue to drive more and more of our neighbors to food banks and food pantries as we enter the winter season.”
  • Meanwhile, donations have decreased over the last few months for many food banks.
  • Christopher Tan heads the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
  • “Down pretty significantly, 20 percent or so in the last six months,”
  • Despite the challenges with keeping the shelves stocked, the team at The Gathering at Scott Memorial UMC trusts that God will continue to provide.

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US Food Banks are seeing many who have never been to a Food Bank before

Revelations 18:23 ‘For the merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.’

Important Takeaways:

  • Food Lines Get Depressingly Long In The U.S. Again As Crops Fail All Over The Globe
  • The Phoenix food bank’s main distribution center doled out food packages to 4,271 families during the third week in June, a 78% increase over the 2,396 families served during the same week last year, said St. Mary’s spokesman Jerry Brown.
  • Tomasina John was among hundreds of families lined up in several lanes of cars that went around the block one recent day outside St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. John said her family had never visited a food bank before because her husband had easily supported her and their four children with his construction work.
  • “But it’s really impossible to get by now without some help,” said John, who traveled with a neighbor to share gas costs as they idled under a scorching desert sun. “The prices are way too high.”

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Food Banks seeing increase in families in need of help as inflation is on the rise

Rev 6:6 NAS “And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Long lines are back at US food banks as inflation hits high
  • With gas prices soaring along with grocery costs, many people are seeking charitable food for the first time, and more are arriving on foot.
  • “It does not look like it’s going to get better overnight,” said Katie Fitzgerald, president and chief operating officer for the national food bank network Feeding America. “Demand is really making the supply challenges complex.”
  • The Phoenix food bank’s main distribution center doled out food packages to 4,271 families during the third week in June, a 78% increase over the 2,396 families served during the same week last year, said St. Mary’s spokesman Jerry Brown.
  • More than 900 families line up at the distribution center every weekday for an emergency government food box stuffed with goods such as canned beans, peanut butter and rice
  • The Los Angeles bank gave away about 30 million pounds of food during the first three months of this year
  • For now, there’s enough food, but there might not be in the future, said Michael G. Manning, president and CEO at Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in Louisiana. He said high fuel costs also make it far more expensive to collect and distribute food.

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Biden to cancel Trump’s pandemic food aid after high costs, delivery problems

By Christopher Walljasper

CHICAGO (Reuters) -Yogurt was everywhere as volunteers opened boxes of fruit, frozen meat and dairy products that had shifted and spilled in transit to a food bank in Walworth County, Wisconsin.

They rushed to clean and transfer the packages of frozen meatballs, apples, milk and yogurt into cars for needy families to take home before they spoiled.

The food came from The Farmers to Families Food Box program that the Trump administration launched to feed out-of-work Americans with food rescued from farmers who would otherwise throw it away as the coronavirus pandemic upended food supply chains.

The government hired hundreds of private companies last spring to buy food no longer needed by restaurants, schools and cruise ships and haul it to overwhelmed food banks. But the program faced spilled and spoiled food, high costs and uneven distribution nationwide, according to interviews with food banks and distributors, and an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) invoice data obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Some of the companies charged the government more than double the program average while delivery to food banks was sometimes late. When the government contracted new vendors, some food banks relying on the program stopped receiving food at all. At the same time, the contractors delivered to churches or daycare centers that lacked adequate refrigeration.

“Food was abandoned to spoil,” said Susan Hughes, managing director of the Walworth County Food and Diaper Pantry.

The USDA spent $4 billion on the food box program in 2020 – six times its normal emergency food budget. After reviewing the program, President Joe Biden’s administration has decided not to continue it after May, USDA Communications Director Matt Herrick told Reuters.

Under newly appointed Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA is focused on different hunger initiatives, including expanding food stamp benefits and increasing food purchases through existing government food distribution programs, Herrick said.

“We’re not going to replace the program,” he said.

While food bank operators are thankful for the large volumes of fresh food from the food box program – and they stress that aid is still needed – many say far more families could have been fed by sticking to existing programs with proven quality and oversight.

Greg Ibach, USDA’s former undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs under the Trump administration, helped design the food box program in about a month. He said it worked as well as other USDA programs that took years to develop.

“We were in a hurry. People were hungry; there wasn’t food in grocery stores – if there was, they couldn’t afford it,” Ibach said. “We got a lot of food out the door and in peoples’ hands.”

HIGH COSTS, INCONSISTENT BOXES

When the food box program was rolled out in May 2020, the Trump administration touted it as a way of getting food to hungry Americans quickly. But by late June, the program fell short of delivery targets, Reuters reported. The government provided little guidance to food pantries and sometimes inexperienced distributors, who were often left to connect with one another on their own.

After some states, including Montana and Nevada, received very little food early on, the Trump administration in June contracted with Gold Star Foods, a California-based school food distributor, to reach underserved areas, Gold Star’s CEO Sean Leer said in an interview.

Gold Star billed the government between $87 and $102 in October and November for food boxes containing fruit, meat and dairy products. That’s more than double the average of similar boxes from other companies at the time, according to USDA invoice data. Leer said the cost reflected the increase in food and freight prices during the pandemic supply chain disruption.

Leer said the company has at times delivered the food boxes at a loss. He noted that during the February cold snap in Texas, Gold Star sent food to the state from California because the weather caused supply problems in Texas.

Food delivered by Gold Star accounted for less than 2% of federal money spent on the food box program in 2020, though that will increase to just under 9% through April 2021, according to Reuters’ review of USDA invoice data.

Companies delivered food in varying quantities at first, making cost comparisons between different vendors difficult. But in September USDA standardized the food boxes at no more than 24 pounds after feedback from food banks.

From October through December, invoice data shows seven out of 105 companies, including Gold Star Foods, charged the government double the program’s median price per pound of food. Three of those companies were awarded contracts by the Trump administration for nearly $32 million in January 2021.

The Biden administration says some companies may have overcharged the USDA.

“There was an unequal cost associated with the distribution and filling of these boxes. Some people made a significant percentage from filling the boxes,” Vilsack said on a March 3 call with reporters.

The USDA specified food boxes delivered in 2021 to the continental U.S. cost between $27 and $48 per box. But cheaper boxes presented new challenges and put additional burdens on food banks, said Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. The lower-cost boxes contained lower quality food, and food companies at times refused to deliver them to smaller pantries, leaving local organizations scrambling to find extra money for delivery, she said.

RURAL AREAS LEFT OUT

Though some regional food banks have taken on the labor of delivering to multiple counties, most smaller food banks serve only one county. Deliveries to additional counties are at the expense of food banks, said Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank.

Reuters’ analysis of USDA data showed the program struggled in particular to reach rural counties. While cities and well-populated counties received millions of boxes of food, 896 counties – or nearly a third – received none, according to USDA data.

USDA’s Herrick said the Biden administration’s assessment of the program exposed problems in how the food aid was delivered.

“A lot of rural communities went unserved entirely,” he said.

Counties that did receive food worked with as many as a dozen food companies over seven months in 2020. Every six to twelve weeks, the USDA introduced a new phase of the program, changing food suppliers and forcing food banks to scramble to connect with new vendors or lose food supplies.

“USDA didn’t give (distributors) any guidance as to who to serve or keep serving,” said Harvard’s Broad Leib. “You can’t rely on something if one day it’s there, then the next day it’s not.”

Despite the program’s flaws, food banks say the nearly 133 million boxes of food delivered in 2020 averted an even greater crisis.

There are hungry Americans in nearly every city and county nationwide, said Kate Leone, senior VP of government relations at Feeding America, a national network of food banks. The organization estimates that about half of the children in some counties are food-insecure – worried about where their next meal might come from.

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

Lessons of hunger: pandemic prompts fresh thinking, new players in U.S. food aid

By Christopher Walljasper and Donna Bryson

CHICAGO (Reuters) – On a recent morning in Chicago’s Southwest side, young workers hefted boxes of food into vans for delivery. Borders staked out by rival gangs prevented many hungry people from visiting the New Life Centers’ food distribution site. So workers brought the food to them.

A year ago, food had a small role at New Life Centers, a church and community outreach program that works to defuse gang tensions. Since June 2020 however, the organization has partnered with local food banks and donors to provide food to around 6,000 families each week. It will continue the stepped-up effort even when the pandemic is over, finding that food delivery opens doors for conflict-resolution workers.

“That’s how relationships get built,” said Paulino Vargas, New Life Centers’ street outreach program manager.

The United States, the world’s richest country, had pockets of hunger before the pandemic put millions of people out of work last year. But now the problem has intensified in urban and rural areas where residents do not have consistent access to nutritious food. Demand at Feeding America, a national network of food banks, rose by 60% during the pandemic.

Even as the U.S. economy recovers with government stimulus and falling COVID-19 cases, hunger worsens. The Congressional Budget Office in February predicted the number of Americans using food stamps to buy food would peak at 44 million in 2022, up from 36.8 million pre-pandemic, before starting to decrease in 2023.

In the past, food security was mainly the concern of food banks and food pantries, but now all kinds of community organizations and other groups are getting involved – from anti-violence workers in Chicago to New York City probation officers. Meanwhile, food pantries nationwide have changed in ways that will continue post-pandemic.

Working with partners such as the Food Bank for New York City, the New York probation department has in recent months increased from once to three times a week the number of days the Nutrition Kitchen food pantries it runs are open and plans to continue the longer hours after the pandemic. The department sees the food pantries as a way to address recidivism as well as to help the wider community.

“People can’t get back on their feet if they’re hungry,” said Steve Cacace, who as director of the probation department’s Community Resource Unit leads the pantry project.

The department also will keep turning to people on parole to help out at the pantries. In some cases, as when Eric Burks started packing boxes of food and tracking the numbers of people served at a Nutrition Kitchen in his home borough of Queens, it can help people complete community-service hours.

“I finished my community service, I started coming back every day,” Burks said. After a day in which he might help serve more than 200 people at the pantry, he uses a shopping cart to deliver food to neighbors who are unable to make the trip to the Nutrition Kitchen.

In Chicago, New Life Centers’ executive director, Matt DeMateo, has seen an opportunity for young people to be empowered “as givers.”

When her college transitioned to online learning during the pandemic, Diana Franco, 20, dropped out and poured more time into volunteering at New Life Centers. With government grants and private donations, the center hired 15 new employees to manage food aid, including Franco as food distribution coordinator.

‘A PAYCHECK AWAY’

It is not just in big cities that people have risen to the challenge of hunger in a pandemic.

Schoolteacher Courtney Walker helps run a food pantry with her family in Atwood, a village of about 1,000 in southern Illinois. Walker said her pantry at Atwood First Baptist, working with partners such as the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, served about 60 families a month before the pandemic and more than 100 by last summer.

Her husband Tim, a mechanic, said Atwood families regularly drive 40 miles (64 km) to stock up at a full-service grocery store on items they cannot obtain at their local Dollar General store. People on fixed incomes in Atwood cannot always afford the gasoline. The pandemic recession, Tim Walker said, revealed how many were “a paycheck away from not being able to afford three meals a day.”

The Walkers started pre-packing boxes of food to limit contacts that could have spread the coronavirus. They are eager to return to allowing people to browse the pantry shelves as if they were in a grocery store, which they say is more dignified.

But in Wisconsin, the Walworth County Food Pantry said it will continue contactless delivery. Giving pre-packed boxes of food to cars is more hygienic and efficient and requires fewer volunteers than having people crowd in to indoor facilities, employees said.

In Denver, the organization that runs one of the city’s largest pantries is calling for more direct cash payments from the federal government to allow people to shop for themselves in stores, moving away from a model that largely relies on food that might otherwise go to waste being distributed to the needy by food pantries.

“We’d like to cut ourselves out of the equation,” said Teva Sienicki, CEO of the Denver pantry organization Metro Caring.

The Biden administration’s stimulus plan includes payments of $1,400 for eligible Americans as well as periodic payments in the second half of the year in the form of an expanded child tax credit.

Sienicki said putting “cash in people’s pockets” allows them to buy items like diapers or toothpaste that are not covered by food stamps.

Pantries such as Metro Caring’s can support people after an emergency, Sienicki said. But she questioned how efficiently, effectively and fairly they can serve large numbers of people who could take years to recover from the pandemic recession.

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper in Chicago and Donna Bryson in Denver; Writing by Donna Bryson; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)

Food Banks Struggling to Keep Up with Demand

Food banks across the country are facing an increase in families in need, forcing some charities to reduce the amount of food that can be given to each family.

Feeding America, America’s biggest food bank network, says that they will give away around 4 billion pounds of food this year, more than double the amount they provided to people in need a decade ago.

“We get lines of people every day, starting at 6:30 in the morning,” said Sheila Moore, who oversees food distribution at The Storehouse, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest food pantry.

Economists say the increased demand is surprising because of the increase in employment figures but many of the people who found jobs are only working part-time or for low wages, and are unable to feed their families with the costs of housing.  Many others who have struggled to find jobs have stopped looking for work.

“I know what people go through,” Peggy Bragg, 56, of Des Moines said. “You have to choose between food and bills.”  Bragg has been out of work for months.

A Fort Smith, Arkansas food bank does monthly food giveaways at a local park and draws around 1,000 families.

“When people are willing to stand in 100 degree weather for hours, that tells you something,” said Ken Kupchick, the food bank’s marketing director.