Area food banks could be facing a reduction in supplies of food in the coming weeks due to emergency need resulting from the severity of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and resources being diverted to meet the need caused by those storms.
Government officials and food bank directors offer conflicting information on the possibility of disruption to the supply of emergency food delivered through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (known as TEFAP). That agency buys food from farmers and then distributes it through various programs, including school lunches and emergency food to food banks.
Gary Gay, director of NC Department of Agriculture Food Distribution Division, said the food products supplied by TEFAP are distributed to schools and food banks in all 100 counties of North Carolina.
Gay said that in the process of meeting demand from hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria, trucking costs had gone up steeply. “There is such a demand for trailers. The price goes up as the demand goes up,” he said.
Due to the additional shipping expense, Gay said money for the program went away quickly as funds earmarked for purchasing food were needed to transport the food. “We were told 700 trucks (of food) could not be bought because the dollars went away.”
Gay said that North Carolina had seen little effect so far. “Twenty loads were canceled.”
North Carolina is a USDA Rapid Response State for the Southeast quadrant of the United States, according to Gay, putting the state in the same service area as the storms.
Gay stated that when adjustments have needed to be made previously, his office was contacted and trucks would be canceled. “But we’ve never had to move products out of state in the past,” he added.
Cindy Marion, director of child nutrition for Elkin City and Yadkin County schools, said she had been requested to give an inventory of commodity food items in her district which could possibly be needed in hurricane relief efforts.
“This has never happened before in my career,” said Marion, “but we had not seen before three hurricanes in a row.“
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina is the conduit through which TEFAP food reaches Surry County food banks. Second Harvest’s website lists Foothills Food Pantry in Dobson, Miracle Waters Food Ministry, Salvation Army, Trinity Episcopal Church and Yokefellow Ministries, all in Mount Airy, S.E.A.M.S. Ministries in Pilot Mountain and ECHO Ministry in Elkin as their Surry County partners.
Lisa Richardson, operations manager for Second Harvest NWNC, said that as far as a reduction in food available from TEFAP, it was her understanding that only bonus items can be touched. Bonus items, according to Richardson, are items not coming out of the pot of money set aside in advance for TEFAP. Bonus items are a product-by-product thing, she said, using corn as an example. “Say, North Carolina farmers have a huge surplus of corn. Then some of it could be bought and offered as a bonus item. It helps farmers also.”
Richardson only knows of one item that has been removed recently. A load of fresh eggs did not materialize, but she said she did not know if the eggs had been purchased or if the money designated for them had been spent elsewhere.
Robin Hardin, coordinator and executive director of Foothills Food Pantry in Dobson, said she has not been notified of any change in the emergency food program. Foothills Food Pantry gets between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of food through TEFAP each month, which she estimated to be about 30 percent of the food distributed by the organization.
At Yokefellow Ministries in Mount Airy, director Dixie Ratliff said there has been no change in the quantity of TEFAP food delivered once a month by Second Harvest. “But the amount of donated food has been cut back drastically,” she said.
Ratliff stressed that donated food is completely different from the TEFAP food coming from the government. Donated food consists of the donations received at local food drives that is given to Second Harvest which is then is sent back to local food banks from Second Harvest.
Those donations are the ones which Ratliff said have dropped off dramatically. Where Yokefellow once received 24 banana boxes of food each week, that amount has dropped to 12 and now they have received nothing for two weeks straight. Ratliff is hoping to receive nine boxes this week but doesn’t know yet if it will happen.
“With all the fires and hurricanes, people have been donating like crazy. It’s my best guestimate, that people are donating to the Red Cross and other agencies and that’s why Second Harvest donations are way down. There really is a desperate need. I understand why it has dropped,” she said.
Helping Hands of Surry in Mount Airy does not receive food from government sources, relying completely on donations. Annalisa Davis, assistant director, says the organization is low on food. “It goes out faster than we get it,” she said. “We get four or five families a day. And some of those families have five people in them. It takes a lot. We try to sustain them until other food comes in.”
Dixie Ratliff summed up the current situation, “Things have got to turn around. There has been so much devastation, boom, boom, boom, but it will come back. Things will turn around. I feel confident it will. You couldn’t ask for better people than we have here.”
“Hopefully, this will pass and just be a small blip,” said Gary Gay.
Donations of food and cash may be made to the following Surry County food banks:
Yokefellow Ministries, 215 Jones School Road, Mount Airy – 336-789-5838
Foothills Food Pantry, 233 Cooper St., Dobson -336-386-8405
Helping Hands of Surry, 114 W. Lebanon St., Mount Airy – 336-673-0216
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.