Food agencies deal with reduced commodities
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
A drop in U.S. Department of Agriculture Emergency Food Assistance spending has reduced the availability of one source of free meals for those in need locally.
In 2009 and 2010, funding for that program doubled in Tennessee as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. The amount of surplus food dropped 25 percent in 2011 and another 50 percent in the first quarter of this fiscal year. Demand for food assistance throughout the state is still high.
Executive Director Elaine Streno said the Alcoa-based Second Harvest Food Bank has noticed the drop.
“Thankfully, we have been able to keep up with the demand because we’re buying a lot of food and spending a lot of money. Our USDA (allocation) has dropped about 40 percent from the products we’re used to receiving.”
The Tennessean reports Nashville food banks rely on surplus to supplement donations from the public. They are hurting as the federal economic stimulus program that helped provide surplus food is coming to an end.
“There’s less food for more people” said Tasha Kennard, spokeswoman for the Nashville’s Second Harvest Food Bank. “That’s the pinch we are all in right now.”
Bob Evans, president of Lebanon’s Love One Another Embassy, which runs a food bank called Joseph’s Storehouse, agreed.
“There’s a sea of people who need help out there” he said.
In 2008, Tennessee received $6.15 million worth of surplus food. That number jumped to more than $13 million in 2009 and 2010, before dropping back to $6.6 million last year.
Terry Minton is the commodity administrator for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. She said the amount of surplus food available tends to ebb and flow.
“We have had quite a lull in our food deliveries, but we seem to be picking up,” she said.
Streno anticipates an increase in requests for food in 2013 as the federal payroll tax reduction ends.
“(Currently), donations are steady, but the demand continues to increase. This is the third year going that we’ve been hanging at around 150,000 requests for food per month, where three years ago, before the economy bottomed out, we were getting about 130,000 requests per month.”
Now based in Blount County, Second Harvest moved into its new 78,000-square-foot headquarters at 136 Harvest Lane in Alcoa in September 2011. It purchased and renovated the former Walker’s Supply Company facility after the business closed its doors in 2009.
The food bank partners with 525 agencies in its service area. Its local partners include Community Food Connection, Alcoa/Maryville Church of God, Chilhowee Baptist Association, New Life Ministries in Greenback, Church of the Cove in Townsend, RIO, Louisville Christian Assistance Center, Boys and Girls Club of Blount County, Jehovah-Jireh Ministries and a domestic violence shelter.
Donations can be made online at http://secondharvestetn.org or by mailing a check to Second Harvest, 136 Harvest Lane, Maryville TN 37801.
Although the Chilhowee Baptist Center in Alcoa is still able to provide food for those in need, Director Rick Myers said he has discontinued distributing USDA commodity food.
“This was a good program, It’s the same program that people remember getting commodity cheese from,” he said.
“At one time, people got a lot of food. Right now, there is just not enough of it to make a difference. I don’t know if some of the budget cutbacks are affecting it, but I really would love to institute the program again if we had enough food to do it with,” Myers said.
“We stopped distributing USDA food back in May because of the fact that it’s supposed to be a two-to-three-month supply of food and a lot of times we weren’t getting enough items. ... We’re only getting a handful of things.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.