[PHNUTR-L] Food Banks, in a Squeeze, Tighten Belts
fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com
Fri Nov 30 07:17:19 PST 2007
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Food Banks, in a Squeeze, Tighten Belts
By KATIE ZEZIMA
Published: November 30, 2007
MANCHESTER, N.H., Nov. 26 — Food banks around the country are reporting
critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute
staples usually reserved for disaster relief and in some instances close.
“It’s one of the most demanding years I’ve seen in my 30 years” in the
field, said Catherine D’Amato, president and chief executive of the
Greater Boston Food Bank, comparing the situation to the recession of
the late 1970s.
Experts attributed the shortages to an unusual combination of factors,
including rising demand, a sharp drop in federal supplies of excess farm
products, and tighter inventory controls that are leaving supermarkets
and other retailers with less food to donate.
“We don’t have nearly what people need, and that’s all there is to it,”
said Greg Bryant, director of the food pantry in Sheffield, Vt.
“We’re one step from running out,” Mr. Bryant said.
“It kind of spirals,” he added. “The people that normally donate to us
have less, the retailers are selling to discount stores because people
are shopping in those places, and now we have less food and more people.
It’s a double, triple, hit.”
The Vermont Food Bank said its supply of food was down 50 percent from
last year. “It’s a crisis mode,” said Doug O’Brien, the bank’s chief
For two weeks this month, the New Hampshire Food Bank distributed
supplies reserved for emergency relief. Demand for food here is up 40
percent over last year and supply is down 30 percent, which is striking
in the state with the lowest reliance on food banks.
“It’s the price of oil, gas, rents and foreclosures,” said Melanie
Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank.
Ms. Gosselin said household budget squeezes had led to a drop in
donations and greater demand. “This is not the old ‘only the homeless
are hungry,’” she said. “It’s working people.”
Lane Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and political science at the
University of Arizona, agreed, saying: “The overall picture is that
household incomes are kind of stuck. There’s very little way to increase
income, and most people have a very heavy debt load. Any event that
increases your costs is really, really troublesome, because you’re
already stretched thin.”
The food bank in Manchester delivers provisions to a housing project
each week, and on a recent Monday, Matthew Whooley, 26, of Manchester,
was waiting in line with his wife, Penny, and their four children.
“Every week there’s less and less food,” Mr. Whooley said. “It used to
be potatoes, meat and bread, and last week we got Doritos and flour. The
food is getting shorter, and the lines keep getting longer.”
In part, food banks are suffering because farmers are doing well. The
food banks rely on supplies from the federal Agriculture Department’s
Bonus Commodity Program, which buys surplus crops like apples and
potatoes from farmers.
“Right now, the agricultural economy is very strong and the surpluses
aren’t available for us to purchase,” said Jean Daniel, a department
spokeswoman. “Certainly we’re empathetic, but unfortunately we cannot
count on those bonus commodities every year.”
Supplies from the surplus program dropped to $67 million worth last
year, from $154.3 million in 2005 and $233 million in 2004. Figures for
this year are not available, Ms. Daniel said.
Food bank operators are lobbying for passage of a farm bill currently
stalled in the Senate that would raise emergency aid for food banks to
$250 million a year, from $140 million. That figure has remained steady
Susannah Morgan, executive director of the Food Bank of Alaska said,
“The biggest problem is that the federal government’s programs are
dropping as need is growing.”
Ms. Morgan said the decline has affected rural Alaska, where native
tribes run most food pantries. She said about 10 percent of the state’s
rural food banks have closed because there is not enough federal help
“They don’t feel staffing and heating is worth it for the small amount
of food,” Ms. Morgan said.
Further complicating the picture, Ms. Morgan and others said, is tighter
inventory monitoring, which has left many stores with less to donate.
“They know exactly what they have, down to the can,” said Darren
Hoffman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, whose
supplies are down 11 percent this year. “They can track a lot better and
don’t order in bulk. Efficiency has kind of been the enemy of the food
Extra food — items that are not selling or seasonal inventory that is no
longer needed — is now often sold to low-cost retailers, said Tim Viall,
executive director of the Greater Stockton Food Bank in Stockton, Calif.
“We’re getting fewer canned goods than last year from retail grocers,
because they’re selling it to warehouse food stores,” Mr. Viall said.
“We’re putting more reliance on canned food drives, and we’re trying to
ramp up the fresh fruit and produce. We are in the heart of one of the
most productive agriculture areas in the world, and we’re trying to take
advantage.” In places where community donations are down and there are
no food manufacturers to solicit, pantries and food banks are making
difficult choices. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul food pantry in
Cincinnati is giving families less food this year because there is not
enough. It has started to ask smaller families to take fewer products.
“Donations are down, and people who need help is up,” said Liz Carter,
executive director of the food bank. “So what are we going to do. We
just made the decision that instead of giving people six or seven days
worth of food, we’re going to give them three or four days of food,
which is a drop in the bucket.”
Ginny Hildebrand, executive director of the Association of Arizona Food
Banks, said many pantries were facing similar situations.
At a recent conference for food bank employees, Ms. Hildebrand said,
“Everybody was saying the same thing. They’re all hit by an increase in
demand, all hit by the impact of the higher costs of food, and all hit
by federal reductions. We just don’t have the quantity of products
available that we used to.”
Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America’s Second Harvest, which distributes
more than two billion pounds of donated food and grocery products
annually, said the shortages at food banks were the worst the
organization had seen in 26 years.
“Suddenly it’s on everyone’s radar,” Mr. Fraser said. “Food banks are
calling us and saying, ‘My God, we have to get food.’”
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD < fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com >
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