Food banks feeling the pinch as Millions struggle with Hunger

The United States Department of Agriculture reported today that 14.5 percent of American households remain food insecure – meaning 1 in 6 households in the United States had difficulty at some time during the year in providing enough food for all their members. The report comes as the House of Representatives is expected to consider a bill this month with a $40 billion cut to federal food assistance.

“When it comes to food insecurity rates, any number is too high,” said Bob Aiken, Feeding America CEO. “It’s because of numbers like these that we need to maintain a strong federal and charitable safety net to get enough food to those in need. This means strengthening and protecting federal programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program).”

The proposed $40 billion SNAP cut in the House bill would result in millions of Americans seeing their food assistance reduced or lost entirely, resulting in over 15 billion lost meals for struggling families over the next ten years according to Feeding America estimates. If divided evenly across Feeding America’s national network of food banks, every food bank would have to provide an additional 7.5 million meals each year for the next ten years. These cuts would come on top of benefit reductions for all SNAP recipients that will take effect on November 1st and will average about $36 per month for a family of four. .

“With so many of our neighbors, friends and family worrying about where the next meal is coming from, now is not the time to cut federal nutrition programs,” said Aiken. “These programs are critical to meeting the current need. Our nation’s food banks are already stretched thin in the wake of the recession, and charity cannot make up for the billions of lost meals resulting from such cuts. We urge Congress to maintain Washington’s long-standing, bipartisan commitment to protecting programs that help struggling families put food in their pantries.”

Food pantry news article brought to you via Feeding America

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Food insecurity in Arizona Highlighted this Month

As the number of Arizonans going without food continues to rise, a Phoenix non-profit is joining a national initiative to address the problem.

September is Hunger Action Month, a project of nationwide food-bank network Feeding America. The event encourages people to donate to local food banks during a time of year when doing so isn’t that popular.

St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, Arizona’s largest food bank, is launching 30 Ways in 30 Days to encourage people to donate time, money and food to the state’s food banks. The group’s website features a calendar of events or suggestions on how to help every day this month.

“There’s a lot of focus on food banks during the holidays, but Hunger Action Month is designed to raise that focus to holiday levels during a different time of year,” St. Mary’s spokesman Jerry Brown said.

One in four children go to bed hungry each night, according to the Association of Arizona Food Banks. One in five people statewide do not know where their next meal will come from, Brown said. The percentage of people in Arizona with food insecurity has risen slightly — a tenth of a percent over the past year, he said.

About 19 percent of Arizona’s population lives in poverty — double the percentage of Arizonans living in poverty in 2008, at the beginning of the economic crisis, Brown said.

“We’ve slowed the rise, but we have not turned it around,” he said. “We still have as many people coming through the food bank as we did when the recession was at its height.”

More than 20 businesses including Intel and Rent-A-Center are hosting events to encourage people to “Go Orange,” the color associated with the cause. Employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Coyotes will help pack food boxes while the 483-foot Chase Tower in downtown Phoenix will glow orange every Thursday night this month to bring attention to the issue.

About 300 Whataburger restaurant employees will help pass out food to families in need in Peoria. The fast-food chain will give a donation to St. Mary’s that will help feed 7,000 families, said Jenny Colon, regional marketing manager.

“Being in the food-service industry, the rising food-insecurity problem is of interest,” she said. “Food insecurity doesn’t only affect homeless people, but these are families, these are children and senior citizens and people with disabilities.”

Leaders are asking people to sacrifice some purchases to benefit someone less fortunate.

“There are things as simple as forgoing a cup of coffee on the way to work that cost $5,” Brown said. “If you donate that $5 to the food bank, we can turn that into 35 meals.”

The state’s unemployment rate remains above the national average.

St. Mary’s passes out 30,000 emergency food boxes a month.

“Families in general are trying hard to make ends meet,” Colon said. “There’s just not enough money for groceries and some have to choose between groceries and utility bills.”

Food banks welcome food donations but have much better buying power with dollars.

“For every pound of food we take in, we can feed one person. For every dollar we take in, we can feed seven people. The food banks have that type of buying power,” Brown said.

Time also is a valuable gift. It allows the non-profit to put more money toward buying food instead of paying employees, Brown said.

“Ninety-five cents of every dollar goes directly back into food and food programs at St. Mary’s,” he said.

The amount of money raised each Hunger Action Month has increased, Brown said. The non-profit raised tens of thousands of dollars last year.

Because donations are not specifically designated for 30 Ways in 30 Days, Brown doesn’t have an exact amount raised solely because of the campaign. But he hopes the increase will to continue this year.

“A lot of companies, churches and people have stepped forward and are excited about Hunger Action Month, giving us kind of a boost into the holiday season when so many people remember there are people in need,” Brown said.

This food pantry article brought to you via AZ Centra

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Donated Produce a big part of Arizona Food Bank Supplies

 

A family visiting its local food bank might expect to find cans of old green beans, but are just as likely to find fresh squash, cucumber, tomatoes, melon, jalapeños, bell peppers and salad, community organizers said.

“I think it really makes their day,” said Brian Simpson, spokesman for the Association of Arizona Food Banks, of the farm-fresh produce that state food banks put out with other foods.

Food bank advocates say that bounty is possible because of the generosity of farmers and grocers throughout the state, who donated nearly 16 million pounds of produce in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

And those donations were down from a typical year because of unusual cold weather that affected crops. In most years, fresh produce donations from Arizona farmers and grocers total about 20 million pounds to food banks inside the state and beyond.

Feeding America, a nationwide hunger-relief charity, received 885 million pounds of donated produce last year, said spokesman Ross Fraser. He could not provide state-by-state donation numbers, but said simple math would indicate an average of 16 million pounds of donated produce in each state every year.

Neither Feeding America nor the Association of Arizona Food Banks differentiates between donations by farmers and those from other sources, like grocery stores, so any numbers they provide include donations from both. But Simpson and Fraser both said that farmers are generous givers.

That is especially true in Yuma, said Mike Ivers, president and CEO of the Yuma Community Food Bank.

He said that over the last five years, Yuma-area farmers donated 832 truckloads of produce that was distributed throughout Arizona and to the rest of the nation. They also donated about 6 million pounds of produce to the Yuma Community Food Bank over that period.

Ivers said the food bank has received donations from farmers since the day it opened in 1978, and farmers were instrumental in the organization’s development. Those continued donations are important, he said.

“It’s a war on hunger, and we’re all in this together,” Ivers said.

Simpson said the food banks association donates food outside Arizona when a growing season is especially fruitful. Several years ago, a successful melon season left food banks in Arizona with too many melons. They sent the surplus melons to food banks in other states, and in return got apples and onions, produce that is not grown in Arizona.

“We’re really in a blessed relationship,” Simpson said. “We have a system that helps feed hungry people.”

Duncan Family Farms, which describes itself as one of the nation’s largest providers of organic spinach and arugula in the winter months, has donated produce to local food banks for more than 20 years.

Its founders created a mission statement when they started the farm in Goodyear, and that mission hasn’t changed, said Patty Emmert, the specialty crop manager for Duncan Family Farms.

“Part of that mission is making sure that everyone – regardless of income or social status – has access to clean, healthy food,” Emmert said.

That’s important in Arizona, a state “that has a large population of people who are food insecure,” she said.

The idea to donate food began when the farm had produce left in the fields, and farm owners Arnott and Kathleen Duncan wanted to provide for the community.

“Instead of tilling it back into the ground, they designed the gleaning program,” Emmert said of a statewide program that picks surplus produce from the fields where it would go to waste and redistributes it to organizations like food banks. The statewide program uses prison inmates to glean the crops.

Duncan Farms donates 1 million pounds of produce, including cabbage, romaine lettuce, spring mix spinach, beets, carrots and radishes to local food banks, Emmert said. As long as food in the field is edible and safe, she said, nothing gets thrown away.

“Obviously, you want to sell most of your product,” Emmert said. “But at the same time if we know that we’re able to help get food into the hands of people that don’t have access, that’s a big part of our mission and business.”

By The Numbers

The Arizona Association of Food Banks receives thousands of tons of fresh produce each year from the state’s farmers and grocery stores. In recent years, donations have totaled:

• 22.4 million pounds in fiscal 2010-2011.

•21 million pounds in fiscal 2011-2012.

•15.9 million pounds in fiscal 2012-2013.

Arizona Food Pantry news brought to you via AZ Starnet and Emilie Eaton Cronkite News Service

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