Local Food Banks Feel Effects of National Strain

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its 2011 Food Insecurity Report earlier this month. According to the report, nearly 12 percent of households in Massachusetts are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from. One source of emergency food assistance is food banks, which are also strained this year by rising food prices.

Andrew Morehouse is executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. He says 150,000 people are food insecure in the region. That number, coupled with price rises and cuts in government support has changed the way the food bank sources its food, and what kind of food donations it receives.

“We are going to be investing a lot more money in purchasing food. We’re going to be hiring a food sourcer to increase the donation of food items from farmers and retailers in particular. We expect to receive more perishable food items, both produce and dairy products.”

Morehouse says the food bank is receiving close to one million pounds less of food than it did last year from the USDA. He says it’s the first time since 2005 the food bank has seen a decline in its federal food support.

The assistance food banks receive from the USDA comes from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP. Overall TEFAP funding has actually increased slightly in Massachusetts this year, but a critical part of that funding comes from bonus funds left over from other USDA programs. This year the USDA has spent more supporting American agriculture on the global market, leaving less money allotted to food banks, even though the number of food insecure families nationally has stayed around 14 percent since 2008.