Food Supply Shakeup on the Horizon

by Tim Kean

USDA has been funding pre-assembled food boxes that we have been receiving to distribute through all of our programs for 3 months. These are great! They contain, produce, dairy products, fluid milk, and meat. Tens of thousands of families have been receiving these boxes, sometimes weekly to provide a stable source of food. The funding for this program called CFAP (Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program), aka -Farmers to Families Food Box Program, will end at the end of October. For us, this food supply (8 semi-loads per week) will be very difficult to find enough food volume as a replacement. Over the last 3 months, this program has made up about 80% of all the food we have been distributing.

We have been able to streamline our operations with getting in pre-packed food that helped make up for the deficiency in volunteers we have experienced. With a small remnant of seven National Guard soldiers remaining at our facility, their focus will be assisting with the logistics of getting food moved from here to there. The absence of a reliable variety and consistent source of food puts some real sketchiness in our ability to maintain the level of food distribution we have managed since March. We are working the connections we have with our traditional food donors, but that system is based on when food growers, manufacturers, distribution centers, and grocery stores have the random need to donate.

“All the food banks around the country are saving the food suppliers a lot of money they would be faced with paying to landfills if we didn’t exist. Almost all the time, it’s perfectly good food that just needs a new home.”

Food doesn’t get donated because a company wants to be generous. It gets donated because they have an inventory problem that they must address. It’s less expensive when they donate it to us and we pick it up than for them to haul it to the dump and pay the dump fees. All the food banks around the country are saving the food suppliers a lot of money they would be faced with paying to landfills if we didn’t exist.Almost all the time it’s perfectly good food that just needs a new home. We are happy to get what we do, but it still feels a little inequitable. That being said, we will jump through hoops to get the opportunity to put this random group of items back into the hands of struggling families who need help. So, the message that needs to be shared is that the products we will be distributing beginning in November will probably look a lot more like the products we were distributing before COVID-19 was around.

Most of the agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens, community centers) we supply have operated in a drive-through or outside format over the last 6 months out of necessity. The opportunity to send them pre-packed boxes with a consistent mix of products has been a real blessing. They haven’t had the number of volunteers they’ve had in the past, so pre-packed boxes have been a good fit for fewer hands. Many operators have expressed their hesitancy to open their doors for families to once again enter and hope they can continue the drive-through method well into next year or beyond. Second Harvest fully supports their decision to operate as a drive-through, but we will not be able to pre-package items for them beginning in November.

We are aggressively recruiting volunteers to help us in our warehouse to sort items and at our Tailgate Distributions.  The absence of volunteers to assist with our Tailgate Distributions will potentially force us reduce the frequency in some counties. We are still seeing the numbers of families stay as high as the current trend over the last 5 months, with increases at some locations. Many families are asking questions about the protocol as they are coming for the first time. We have an effective volunteer system, GivePulse, which allows you to pre-register as a volunteer or schedule a group for warehouse activity or Tailgate Distributions.

For questions, connect with us through Kellie Arrowood, our Volunteer Coordinator by email or (765)-287-8698 ext. 100. If you have a couple of hours to spare and are willing to work in a safe environment, the community needs your help to keep the food assistance flowing to our struggling neighbors.

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