By Matt Reese
Those who know can hear the difference.
The sound of open space reverberating around the Mid-Ohio Food Collective’s sprawling storage facility in Grove City is a growing concern. As the high-demand summer season approached, supplies were at 25% capacity.
At a time when food is needed most, it is becoming increasingly scarce at Ohio food banks, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
“Food scarcity and hunger rates are now high above the peak of the pandemic, which is hard to believe, but there are many reasons for this. We see our labor market recovering, but wages continue to stagnate in the lower sectors – like the service sector – of the economy,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “We are seeing shortages that are exacerbated by supply chain issues. It’s not just in the grocery store – it’s all the inputs that need to go into food production of everything from livestock to additives or packaging. And now we look at those diesel prices and other rising costs. Unfortunately, the food sources we relied on in the past have drastically diminished. Donations are down, including retailer donations, as retailers cannot acquire the foods they need to ensure their shelves are restocked for their customers. I have salespeople who say they’ve never seen it this bad. We’re seeing higher demand at a time when we’re seeing a decline in retail donations, industry donations from food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, and then USDA food systems are so impacted by the supply chains that the USDA has canceled shipments. Through May 2022, food banks in Ohio have seen the cancellation of over 250 tractor-trailer loads of USDA produce that is the mainstay – the center of the plates we so desperately depend on. They say they cannot find vendors to meet the tender requirements. I have been doing this for 25 years and have never seen the number of mass cancellations through the USDA.
There are no easy solutions to the wide range of challenges that converge on the food supply chain.
“Everything feeds the situation. Much of what we do now is global. Products are often shipped overseas for processing and then shipped back. We still have containers stuck in ports that cannot return for processing. We have glass and aluminum shortages, labor shortages. Farmers will not overproduce food with input costs and uncertainty with extreme weather conditions. There are challenges on all levels with everything at a time when more and more households are turning to food banks more frequently because their limited budgets simply cannot stretch with food costs as high as they currently are. For Americans who have taken a wholesome, low-cost, healthy source of readily abundant food for granted, we are challenged by all the things many people around the world face,” she said. “Really for the first time, whoever has the most money wins in this situation. If we have competition for a declining product like canned green beans, and food manufacturers and retailers buy everything they have so the USDA doesn’t have the ability to buy them The other thing is the formulation of the foods the USDA tries to buy foods that are low in sodium and low in sugar and these items are in high demand.When the USDA comes out to bid on these items,sometimes 6-9 months in advance,we plan our distribution based on how much we are going to get.And we also always have something surplus from our retail donors but because the supply chain is stretched to the breaking point we don’t have one I said the supply chain was fragile but now I’ve moved on to say that it is completely broken.
Inflation increases the challenges.
“Budgets have been stretched to breaking point. Food is the most fungible part of anyone’s budget. You have to pay rent, utilities, child care, you have to pay gas to get to work. We see families turn to us when their budget can no longer stretch and they have to sacrifice what they spend on food. The landscape of hunger and food shortage continues to worsen. We also saw a rapid increase in rents for many families,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “During the pandemic, the US Census Bureau conducted the Household Pulse Survey in which it studied households across the United States with the trade-offs they made with job losses, disruptions and scarcity. At the end of last year, we started to see the needs stabilizing after 3 stimulus payments that had been made and the expansion of the child tax credit. At the end of December, these advances, monthly tax credit payments ended and families with children ran out of money. The most recent survey found that 1 in 10 households in Ohio did not have enough to eat in the previous 7 days in their household. That’s scary. And 1.8 million children in the state of Ohio depend on free and reduced-price meals at schools. In the summer, only about 200,000 of these children will be able to access a replacement, perhaps lunch instead of breakfast and lunch at school. Demand spikes on our system in the summer and we are at a time when we are seeing record high inventory.
“The first line of defense against hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which many people know as the Food Stamp Program. SNAP received the maximum allocation during the pandemic and due to the end of the public health emergency, we’re going to see a huge drop for 700,000 SNAP households with 1.5 million Ohioans They will see their average monthly SNAP benefit drop by $80 per person per month at a time when the cost The poorest of the poor are going to miss out on these school meals programs We predict a long, hot summer of need.
Although the situation is dire, Ohio has some food advantages, thanks in part to a robust and bountiful agricultural sector.
“We are very lucky in Ohio. We developed Ohio’s agricultural clearance program over 20 years ago. He was supported at the time by Governor George Voinovich and every governor since then. It is funded by the Ohio General Assembly through the Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services. This allows us to work with a core group of approximately 50 farmers, growers and commodity producers to dispose of their surplus or unmarketable agricultural products, including fruits and vegetables. I call them cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables — less than Grade A. Then we moved into the protein realm maybe 15 years ago,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “We can take those dollars and pay some of the farmer’s picking, packing, processing, or production costs to go ahead and harvest those fruits and vegetables that have no market value. Then they are packaged and shipped directly to our food banks. Last year this provided over 35 million pounds of some of the healthiest foods we have. It’s usually fresher than what you might even find at the grocery store. Farmers have always been part of the partnership that helps us fight food insecurity. Farmers grow food to feed people and they don’t want to see food wasted. The government provides the funding, we work with the producers and we feed our hungry friends and neighbours. It’s a real win-win-win.
Hamler-Fugitt is pushing for the expansion of Ohio’s agricultural clearance program to help meet more future food needs in Ohio.
“Every year we had this program, we ran out of money before we ran out of food offered. We would also like to expand the program to new and emerging farmers,” she said. “We would like to move it from a market clearing program to a real buying program. This would require additional appropriations. We are always on the lookout for new suppliers who have surpluses that we could direct to a local food pantry or soup kitchen. »
To learn more, visit ohiofoodbanks.org or email [email protected]