MCLEAN, VA ? The federal government is sending less produce, meat and dairy products to food banks and pantries, which is impacting their ability to meet demand, USA Today reports.
"It's not playing out too good for us; I'm running out of food," said Peggy Taylor, who runs the pantry at the One Accord Baptist Church in Martinsville, Va. She said while her pantry serves 500 people a month ? double the amount of people from a year ? the amount of government food she has received has dropped from 200 cases of canned goods a year ago to 32 today.
The reason, according to Janey Thornton, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, is one of supply. Under the federal government?s Emergency Food Assistance program, the government purchases surplus food and gives the products to food banks. When the marketplace is overrun with certain types of foods, the department will purchase them as a means of stabilizing the market while providing them to food banks as a bonus.
But owing to population growth and severe weather that has reduced the food supply, demand for food has been exceptionally high over the past year. As such, there has been less need for the government to step in, Thornton said.
Last fiscal year, the USDA, which administers the program, purchased 421 million pounds of bonus food, worth $235 million, which it gave to food banks and pantries. That?s a steep drop from the year prior, when it gave away almost 500 million pounds of food, worth $347 million.
So far this year, the department has bought just 129 million pounds, worth $92 million.
Thornton said some relief to food banks is coming, with an infusion of $170 million worth of meat the USDA will purchase to help farmers hurt by the recent drought. In the meantime, food pantries are struggling.
"The magnitude of change means that we're not able to make that up, especially with the increased need," said Clyde Fitzgerald, executive director of Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Second Harvest Food Bank, adding the food bank has spent $1 million this year to buy food.