Shared Harvest food issue delayed as federal program extended

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

FAIRFIELD ― A fourth round of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program has been authorized, meaning foodbanks like Shared Harvest will be able to maintain its food distribution levels through the end of 2020.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week authorized $500 million for the fourth round of purchases, which will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, according to the agency.

The Farmers to Families program was scheduled to end at the end of this month, which would have reduced the amount of food Shared Harvest could distribute to the hundreds of families seeking assistance. The monthly food distribution events have plateaued at around 600 families per event, but that’s still three times the number served prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, said Terry Perdue, Shared Harvest Food Bank executive director.

“The Farmers to Families program continues to be a critical component in our response to the increased need resulting from the economic impact of COVID," he said. "To have the assurance of a continued supply of food for families brings us tremendous relief for the time being. We will persevere in hopeful anticipation of a more sustainable solution after December.”

The food bank also receives food through trade mitigation with China, which is also expected to end at the end of December. The food bank has received trade mitigation food for the past two years.

In response to struggling families due to the economic hardships caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the federal government in mid-May launched the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. More than 35.5 million boxes were delivered in 45 days.

In the program’s second round, the USDA issued new contracts focused to direct food to reach underserved areas, places where either no boxes have yet been delivered, or where boxes are being delivered but where there was an additional need.

The third round saw an additional $1 billion invested in the program.

The fourth round of the food box program will provide organizations access to fresh produce, dairy products, milk and meat products, according to the USDA.

The program will continue to require that proposals illustrate how coverage would be provided to areas identified as opportunity zones, detail subcontracting agreements, and address the “last mile” delivery of product into the hands of the food insecure population. The “last mile” represents the final hurdles in getting food to people in need.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said they recently passed 110 million boxes delivered, “and millions more are headed to Americans in need.”

Shared Harvest is developing a plan to prepare for the eventual cutoff of federal food supplies, and turning to national food manufacturers, like Kelloggs, Nabisco and FritoLay, and local retailers. Additionally, Shared Harvest can make any financial donation go further as every $1 donated can be converted into eight meals.

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