Saturday, January 5, 2008

Why are food bank donations down?

The Gleaner’s Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan reported a 35% decline in overall donations in 2007. In Washington, DC last month, the Capital Area Food bank supplies were down 60% compared to a year ago. The story is the same everywhere, including my local Niles Food Pantry: Less available food at food pantries. Images of empty shelves at food banks are evidence of what we don’t see…empty refrigerators and empty bellies. In a land of plenty, why is this happening? Here are 5 reasons why donations have dramatically declined:

1. Increase in demand: America’s Second Harvest’s member food pantries have seen demand increases nationwide, sometimes as high as 20%.
2. Strong farm economy: Drought and strong international markets reduced food surplus for the government to buy cheaply. This was great for farmers, but bad for a system reliant upon bonus commodities to feed the hungry. In five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture steadily decreased its purchase of surplus food from $200 million to an estimated $58million.
3. Fewer damaged goods from manufacturers: Increased efficiency conserves money and resources. Yet salvage products, edible food in damaged packaging, are a significant source of donations. At the Greater Chicago Food Depository, these contributions have fallen by 42% since 2004.
4. Decrease in grocery store donations: Better controls over store-ordering procedures reduce overstock and donations. Supermarket chain consolidation also decreases giving opportunities.
5. Inflation: Support for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is re-authorized only every five years. $140 million todays doesn’t buy as much as it did in 2002.

The accumulated effects of these trends are devastating to thousands of individuals and families. So the question remains: ‘What can we do?’
- Pass a strong nutrition title in the U.S. Farm Bill. Congress can increase support for TEFAP and the Food Stamp Program.
- Develop community hunger relief projects: City wide programs like Chicago’s “One City, One Food Drive” promote awareness while making it easy for everyone to participate. Any community group can hold a food drive.
- Make personal donations: Local food banks or America’s Second Harvest can make your money go further than your food donations. They buy more food per dollar than individuals and know the needs of their patrons.
- Increase corporate giving: Businesses can make financial or in-kind donations. More food manufacturers can donate salvage products. Restaurants, grocery stores, and caterers can participate in food rescue programs, which re-distribute perishable and prepared foods.

The desperation felt by someone turned away empty-handed from a food pantry is hard to fathom in the midst of abundance. Yet it is a growing reality. The good news is that this problem can be overcome. With even modest acts of compassion and political action we can move nourishing food to food bank shelves and then into homes where it belongs.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Food donations down nationwide: video

If you didn't see the feature on the Jim Lehrer news hour, please check it out! It features many Chicago hunger-fighting organizations, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, to help illustrate a nation-wide problem. Kate Maehr, the executive director of GCFD,is one of those interviewed on the subject to explain the reasons for a general decline in donations, which include:inflation, fewer damaged packaging donations, fewer bonus commodities from the government, and others.

You can find it here with a summary of the piece at:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007 Farm Bill good from a Food Pantry perspective

If you read this blog, you are getting my perspective on the Farm Bill that is heavily swayed toward wanting those subsidies to be reined in for the benefit of global poverty and domestic. As I've pointed out already, the amendments related to reform did not get passed. Which is disappointing except for the magnificent fact that so many more people are aware and talking about it! Yet there was another side to what many of us were pushing for, which was increased support for domestic hunger programs. This type of support is the money that helps out local food pantries. From that end, it seems to have been a least for now. There was increased support with the concern being that funding for it is not completely secure for the future. Nevertheless, here are optimistic statements from two main organizations that help out our local food pantries around here....
From the Greater Chicago Food Depository's website:
On Friday, Dec. 14, the Farm Bill passed out of the U.S. Senate. As you know, this is an important step toward securing additional resources for both the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Food Stamp Program which provides food for hungry families throughout the country. Your advocacy helped to make this victory possible so give yourself a round of applause!

There are still obstacles ahead as the bill must go through conference committee and be signed into law by the President. Keep an eye out for future action alerts on this issue. Now that the bill has passed out of the Senate, please take a moment to call your U.S. Senators to thank them for their support of a strong nutrition title in the Farm Bill.
From America's Second Harvest:
On Friday, December 14th, the Senate passed the 2007 Farm Bill by a vote of 79-14. The bill now will go before a House-Senate conference committee that will work to iron out the differences between the House and Senate-passed proposals.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) have both voiced their strong support for wrapping up negotiation quickly on a final Farm Bill. Chairman Peterson has indicated that he plans to spend part of the winter congressional recess in Washington working with his staff on the Farm Bill. Chairman Harkin will chair the conference committee on the Farm Bill, but conferees apparently will not be named until January.

The Senate approval of the Farm Bill was a critical step in the process towards enactment of a final Farm Bill conference report. However, it is essential that the process continue to move forward to help ensure that the Congress passes a final Farm Bill that strengthens and enhances critical nutrition programs, like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Food Stamp Program, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), that help hungry Americans. The number of individuals and families seeking assistance from food banks across the country remains strong; however, federal commodities to food banks have declined drastically over the past several years due to high food prices. Quick passage of a final Farm Bill is essential for charitable feeding providers and the low-income Americans they serve every day.

Please send a letter to your Senators today and urge them to support the swift passage of a final Farm Bill conference report with a strong nutrition title as quickly as possible. Thank you for your help!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bread for the World: Farm Bill update

The Farm Bill Isn't Finished

In mid-December the Senate passed its version of the farm bill. This legislation must now be reconciled with the House version through a conference. Bread for the World will continue to campaign for reform as the House, Senate and administration negotiate the final version of the farm bill next year.

Bread for the World and many religious bodies joined forces with environmental and taxpayer groups to campaign for reform of the farm bill. We have shaken up traditional farm bill politics and made the House and Senate farm bills better than they would have otherwise been. About 300 newspapers have editorialized in favor of reform, and surveys show that most voters now understand that there are serious abuses in the farm bill.

On December 14, the Senate passed a problematic farm bill that:
-fails to make farm support programs fairer
-proposes increases in trade-distorting commodity programs
These programs have a negative impact on prices and earning opportunities for poor farmers in the developing world. Savings from much-needed reforms to these programs could be better used to fund nutrition and conservation programs and help U.S. farm and rural families of modest means.

A majority of senators voted for two reform amendments (see how your Senators voted)– no more than $250,000 in annual payments per household and no subsidies to households with incomes above $750,000. But the Senate's leadership caved to a filibuster threat from Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), whose family received big farm subsidy payments worth $715,000 between 1995 and 2005.

Because Senate Democratic leaders did not want to be blamed for further delay of the farm bill, they changed the rules to require 60 votes for passage of those three amendments, rather than a simple majority. The Dorgan-Grassley and Klobuchar amendments received the support of a majority of the senators voting, but they were defeated as they fell short of the manufactured 60-vote requirement.

The best feature of the Senate bill is an increase in food assistance to hungry families, but unfortunately this increase would expire in 2012. This budget gimmick represents a false promise to millions of families who struggle to put food on the table. On the positive side, the Senate bill includes the Hunger-Free Communities Act, which requires the next administration to develop a plan for cutting U.S. hunger and strengthen community anti-hunger coalitions across the nation.

The House of Representatives passed its farm bill in July. The House also failed to curtail subsidies and raised support levels for certain crops, though it did not increase them as substantially as the Senate did. On a positive note, the House bill increased funding for:
-domestic food assistance;
-school meals in developing countries; and
-assistance to minority farmers.
The House and Senate bills do include good things for hungry people, the environment, rural communities and minority farmers, but the funding for these improvements is not secure. Congress should finance the improvements by capping subsidies to affluent farmers.

Stay tuned for future actions and developments.