Food banks pick up slack as Dinwiddie program ends
DINWIDDIE, Jan 06, 2013 (The Progress-Index - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
On the second Thursday of each month, roughly 400 people at the federal poverty limit would receive food assistance through the Dinwiddie commodity program. This January, all will be quiet at Rohoic Elementary School where food was typically distributed, but it does not mean that those in need will go hungry.
Following a year-long reduction in food supply from the Central Virginia Food Bank, the Dinwiddie Social Services Board decided to terminate the commodities program in December. Officials began questioning the program's worth after the last several shipments consisted of only egg noodles.
The Dinwiddie commodities program was a USDA-based program that was negatively impacted for a variety of reasons that are nearly impossible to fully identify, said CVFB's Jim Baldwin. But Congress's 2008 Farm Bill, which was recently extended as part of the fiscal cliff deal to avoid drastic increases in milk prices, has played a role.
The 2008 Farm Bill allocates agricultural subsidies as well as financial aid for food stamp programs. The 2008 Farm Bill approved $300 billion in spending, 67 percent of which was spent on food stamps and 15 percent of which was spent on agricultural subsidies.
"USDA commodities are allocated on a state-wide basis from the federal government," said Julia Galloway, CVFB program coordinator for the region,. "It is a trickle-down effect that has to do partly with how much farmers are paid for their crops."
Galloway also noted that another factor that contributed to the program's demise was the fact that it operated under the Dinwiddie Social Services Department, which typically does not handle such labor-intensive programs.
But just because the funding stream for one USDA-funded program has dried up does not mean other ones are not running, CVFB officials said. Local food banks in Dinwiddie, Petersburg, Hopewell and other places continue to serve increasing numbers of people, and do not see their programs ending anytime soon.
All of these food banks rely in part on food from CVFB. The food these food banks receive is separate from aid supplied to USDA-funded programs.
"Most people think that the food bank has this huge pile of food and we divide it up depending on who has the most need, but most of the donations and funding we receive are earmarked for a specific program," Baldwin said. "The USDA programs receive food from the federal government, but food for the food banks can come from corporate-sponsored food drives."
Between October and December of last year, there were 595 food drives, according to Baldwin. Eight hundred and thirty three food drives have helped support food banks during this fiscal year so far.
Recent changes to CVFB's distribution process favors larger food bank programs over smaller ones, creating a greater reliance on outside donations for smaller food banks like Dinwiddie. The CVFB serves 31 counties and five cities, allowing local food agencies from these areas to take food based on the number of people the program serves. This is different from previous years, when taking food was based on a first-come first-serve basis. The CVFB made the change last April to ensure a more equitable distribution.
"The allocation limits are based on the size of the program as opposed to one agency coming and taking as much as it wants. So far, our agencies like the changes because they feel like they are getting a fairer deal," Galloway said.
Hopewell's food bank served 12,000 people last year, which is 9,000 more people than in 2009, according to food bank director Dick Commander. Because they are a larger food bank, they are allowed to come to the food bank three times a week.
"Hopewell's food pantry has a lot of local support, and I don't think we have diminished our support from CVFB," Commander said. "We buy more at the [Central Virginia] food bank because we get it cheaper at the [Central Virginia] food bank."
The story is different for Dinwiddie's food bank, which is most likely to net former participants of the commodities program. The Rev. Herbert Anderson, head of the Dinwiddie food bank that is comprised of a coalition of churches, estimated that 70 percent of the food bank's support comes from community donations while the remaining 30 percent is received from the food bank. He added that the food bank typically serves three families each day, about 60 times more than they served five years ago.
"They [CVFB] are struggling. Many times we are not able to get very much from them," Anderson said.
Despite the decreasing amounts of CVFB aid, Anderson said that community donations will allow them to stay afloat.
"The churches pick up the slack and they still support it. We have been able to serve everybody," Anderson said.
Food bank programs in Petersburg have also experienced decreased CVFB supply, but have not turned away anyone.
"The amount of supply has definitely decreased but we are still able to service the community," said Jimean McBride of Petersburg's Salvation Army. The Petersburg Salvation Army typically receives 150 to 200 pounds of food each week.
James McClellan of Petersburg's Downtown Churches United, which runs the HOPE center's food program, also said that a reduction in supply has not created thoughts of termination.
"We are not to the point that we are thinking of ending the program," McClellan said.
Despite the differences in CVFB aid, smaller and larger food banks agree that such a point will not be reached.
"We are not going to turn anyone away empty-handed," McBride said.
- Vanessa Remmers can be reached at 804-722-5155 or email@example.com
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