FOOD banks are scrambling to meet an increasing demand, so partnerships between the public and private sectors remain critical.
"We've seen a 5-10% spike in volume of households coming to us over the last few years," said George Jones, Bread for the City chief executive officer.
Kevin Concannon, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, noted that after the stimulus expired Nov. 1, it resulted in a reduction of millions of dollars in food assistance, which has created more foot traffic at food banks such as Bread for the City.
Feeding America CEO Bob Aiken said the organization's network of 200 food banks, which serves more than 37 million people through 61,000 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in communities across America, are faced with consistently high demand for food assistance.
"The recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) have exacerbated demand," Aiken said. "Demand on food banks remains high as many low-income families continue to struggle in this tough economy and SNAP recipients try to adjust to reduced monthly benefits."
In an event held at the Bread for the City food bank, Jones joined with Concannon and Anne Alonzo, administrator for USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), to highlight the benefits of the partnerships between the public and private sectors as well as announce the purchase of an additional $126 million worth of fruit and vegetable products to be distributed to needy families under USDA's The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program that helps food banks provide nutritious food to low-income Americans in need of hunger relief.
The products to be purchased include tart cherries, processed apples, cranberries, fresh tomatoes, wild blueberries and raisins. This purchase will expand efforts to provide high-quality, wholesome, domestically produced foods to support low-income families in need of emergency food assistance, USDA said.
Foods distributed through TEFAP are either purchased with funds appropriated specifically for TEFAP or are procured through USDA's market support programs. The foods are provided to states for distribution to local agencies, such as food banks, that further distribute the food to organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens that provide communal meals or distribute foods directly to low-income families.
The purchase is part of the surplus removal program, which allows USDA to purchase foods in order to help stabilize prices in agricultural commodity markets by balancing supply and demand while providing healthy food to low-income households. Products purchased in the past year have included fruits, vegetables, catfish, lamb, turkey and chicken. Surplus products are provided to TEFAP as well as to the National School Lunch Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and other USDA nutrition assistance programs.
In fiscal 2013, Congress appropriated $311.34 million for TEFAP, which included $265.75 million for food and $45.59 million for administrative support for states and local agencies.
In addition to these funds, TEFAP receives surplus foods purchased through AMS to support American agricultural markets. In fiscal 2013, 366.3 million lb. of food were purchased for TEFAP through the congressional appropriation and another 270.8 million lb. through AMS surplus removal efforts. Surplus food purchases for TEFAP totaled $228.51 million in fiscal 2013.
"We appreciate the Administration's timely and much-needed bonus commodity purchase," Aiken said. "We ask the USDA to continue to identify commodity purchase opportunities to provide support for growers and hungry Americans. We also urge Congress to ensure that the farm bill agreement they are currently finalizing protects vital anti-hunger programs like SNAP and provides additional TEFAP resources so that food pantry shelves do not go bare."
Nutrition spending continues to be one of the major divisive points in farm bill discussions. Jones said it creates anxiety about what potential cuts would mean.
Concannon added that it will be imperative for legislators to provide a food safety net for the millions of Americans who depend on food assistance right now. He said it's crucial to provide some "stability to the families and organizations to be able to move forward in providing and responding to people's needs."