The members of the Washington County Farm Bureau may have won a statewide award for its efforts in last year’s “Harvest for All” food drive that netted more than six tons of products, but these folks are not the type to rest on their laurels.
With deference to the greatest generation, Farm Bureau coordinator Don Carter’s attitude seems to be, “We did it before, and we can do it again.”
Or, maybe do it just a tad better.
Carter, in announcing the kickoff of the Washington County Farm Bureau’s 11th annual food drive last week, told the county commissioners, “Last year, we collected over 12,000 pounds of canned goods that were distributed over the entire county. My goal this year is to collect over 13,000 pounds.”
To make donating as easy as possible, the farm bureau recruited more than 30 sites to sponsor the collection, which begins Saturday and lasts through March 31.
According to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau website, 1 in 6 people nationwide is either “food insecure” or at risk of hunger.
“I encourage everyone to donate,” Carter said.
The food drive is designed to tide over the Greater Washington County Food Bank between the holiday season that ended Jan. 1 and the growing season.
A combination of joblessness, a reduction in food stamp allocations, stagnant salaries and low-wage jobs for those who are employed has driven more people to seek assistance.
Lisa Nuccetelli, executive director of the food bank in Eighty Four, said Monday that in November 2012, the organization served 3,141 households. By November of last year, that number rose by just more than 2,100 households, to 5,243.
To be eligible for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, a family of four must live in Washington County and have an annual income of no more than $35,325. If a family is over the income guideline, the food bank will assist them with a one-time emergency box. Much of the food donated through the farm bureau drive goes toward the emergency food program.
A reduction of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, last fall reduced by $68 a month the benefits for a family of four.
Not only does that reduction affect food stamp recipients, it affects store owners.
“That’s money that’s not going into retail,” Nuccetelli said. She learned at a meeting last week of agencies that make up the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank that in Washington County, with the expiration of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act Nov. 1, $206,043 less per month is being spent in stores in Washington County.
In November, the Greater Washington County Food Bank ordered 8,800 cases of food, a 10 percent increase of what it orders for a normal month.
“And we ran out,” Nuccetelli said. “ We scrambled around to five or six pantries to find food.” Greater Washington County has 38 food pantries.
There seems to be no easy fix on the horizon.
“I believe the governor’s preliminary budget is coming out Feb. 4,” Nuccetelli said. “We’re not hopeful at all.”
And this is despite an email campaign that began in December to Gov. Tom Corbett to increase the State Food Purchase Program. The state Department of Agriculture states that “Pennsylvania is one of a small number of states … to provide state revenues for an emergency assistance food program for its low-income citizens. This is the largest program of its kind, and it reflects the commonwealth’s determination to address problems related to nutrition and hunger.”
Retail stores donate 20,000 pounds of food, including baked goods and meat, per month to the food bank, Nuccetelli said. The food may be past the “sell-by” date, but the food bank explains to those who have questions that many canned goods are safe well beyond those dates.
A food bank client receives only a few days’ worth of edibles each month.
“We’re only required to supply three to five days’ worth of food,” Nuccetelli said. “We try to do more than that, but when we see cuts, the amount of food we’re distributing might have to be lowered to see the increase in demand.”