By Tim Kean, President and CEO
I come from a fairly lengthy history in the retail grocery business. In this leadership role, I get asked a lot about our food supply. A year ago, we were experiencing a major disruption in the food supply across the country, grocery store shelves were low or empty with quantity limit signs posted for the previous three months. We also certainly witnessed or participated in some very unusual buying decisions that still drive these conditions on occasion even today. Supply interruption at the manufacturing and fresh food processing level have still not subsided. More food was being eaten at home, which has probably contributed to some pressure on store shelves. A year later, that is beginning to ease.
The national food bank system of operation revolves around the concept of acquiring truckloads of donated food that has been deemed unsaleable for a variety of reasons and are sitting at various locations in the food distribution channels, including the farmer level, processors, manufacturers/wholesalers, distribution centers, and retailers. Donated product availability at all these points in the chain has been depleted or eliminated. Even after a year, this phenomenon has not disappeared or recovered.
So where does all that leave us? Food donations are all but dried up. Food purchasing on the open market has very limited availability, but has become much more normal for us as a means of supply. The USDA has increased purchasing from producers to send us additional non-perishable food that has been a blessing. They also have continued a new program by contracting with perishable food suppliers for milk, dairy, produce, and meat. Some months we can access it and some months we are left outside of a designated distribution list. We have been receiving these items off and on over the last year and it couldn’t have come at a better time. As with most circumstances, this is a two-edged sword. We are now using a small fleet of borrowed/rented storage trailers on our lot to hold all the additional perishable food supply.
I doubt that this will change much for a lengthy period of time – we may have crossed over to the new long-term reality Feeding America has been forecasting for many years. The forecast is that donated non-refrigerated food will continue to decrease in availability and refrigerated food will continue to increase. An expansion of our cooler/freezer has got to move forward for a long-term solution.
We’re still seeing higher than pre-pandemic level needs in all the 8 counties that we serve and have responded by maintaining as much of a distribution schedule that our inventory and volunteer levels will support. We have also expanded our Senior Safety Net to 16 sites to address senior hunger by partnering with LifeStream Services and Glick Properties. We are continuing to see increased numbers of families through The Big Idea school initiative and looks very promising that we may return to serving inside schools beginning with the fall term.
Highly nutritious perishable food is where we see our inventory currently and for the foreseeable future with its two-edged sword of benefits and challenges. We thank you for your kind words of encouragement and financial support to keep it all moving.