Saturday, December 01, 2007

U.S. Food Banks Going Broke

Apparently tighter inventory controls by retailers, the mortage crisis, stagnant wages, lack of grain surpluses and higher gas prices have combined to create a perfect storm.

From the NY Times:

MANCHESTER, N.H., Nov. 26 — Food banks around the country are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute staples usually reserved for disaster relief and in some instances close.

“It’s one of the most demanding years I’ve seen in my 30 years” in the field, said Catherine D’Amato, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, comparing the situation to the recession of the late 1970s.

Experts attributed the shortages to an unusual combination of factors, including rising demand, a sharp drop in federal supplies of excess farm products, and tighter inventory controls that are leaving supermarkets and other retailers with less food to donate.
“Donations are down, and people who need help is up,” said Liz Carter, executive director of the food bank. “So what are we going to do. We just made the decision that instead of giving people six or seven days worth of food, we’re going to give them three or four days of food, which is a drop in the bucket.”

Ginny Hildebrand, executive director of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, said many pantries were facing similar situations.

At a recent conference for food bank employees, Ms. Hildebrand said, “Everybody was saying the same thing. They’re all hit by an increase in demand, all hit by the impact of the higher costs of food, and all hit by federal reductions. We just don’t have the quantity of products available that we used to.”

Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America’s Second Harvest, which distributes more than two billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually, said the shortages at food banks were the worst the organization had seen in 26 years.

“Suddenly it’s on everyone’s radar,” Mr. Fraser said. “Food banks are calling us and saying, ‘My God, we have to get food.’”

So this holiday season please take some time to clean out your pantry, pick up a few extra nonperishables, and drop them off at your local food bank or collection center. Thanks.