Why We Keep Feeding the Ducks

Why We Keep Feeding the Ducks

Some say of food assistance, “don’t feed the ducks or more will come.” With 30-40% of food going to waste in America, there is more than enough to go around

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

There is a comment we are tired of hearing: “There are a lot of nice cars in your line today.”

On days our Drive Thru Food Pantry is open, a line of cars stretches down the block. Some of these cars are a bit battered, a bit older — this is what somebody might assume the car of a hungry person “should” look like. Some are not.

When people make these comments to us, we remind them that there are a lot of very plausible reasons for a “nice” car to be in our line. Sometimes people pick up food on behalf of friends, families, and neighbors who do not have transportation or are house-bound. Some of our clients borrow cars to get to a food distribution. Some healthcare or social workers pick up food for the people they serve.

Sometimes, one unexpected job loss, sudden health emergency, or natural disaster is all it takes for a family that looks financially stable to need extra help.

But there is another reason we do not spend our time worrying who is in our lines. At The Foodbank, we do not believe that food is a scarce commodity that should be jealously hoarded. There is more than enough to go around. Our job is simply to close the loop in a food system that does not always fairly allocate its resources to those with lower incomes.

Food (Waste) for Thought

According to the US Department of Agriculture, 30-40% of food produced in the US goes to waste. That amounts to about 133 billion pounds of food each year, or 111 billion meals. For context, Feeding America has estimated that the total number of people experiencing food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic is just over 50 million.

As foodbankers, our job is to coordinate the movement of this food from where it is not needed to our 116 partner agencies and our direct service programs, such as the Drive Thru.

To be clear, we do not simply throw food into anyone’s trunk. All clients at our programs and partner agencies must have an income at or below 200% the federal poverty limit (230% during COVID). We track recipients of our food in our client management system, PantryTrak, and report aggregate data to key stakeholders, such as the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

(While clients must meet income guidelines to receive federal food, we do not turn people away. If somebody is at risk of going hungry and does not meet the income guidelines, we are able to give them food as long as it does not include federal and state-purchased food.)

Although we do purchase some food each year, a large portion of the food we distribute is food rescue product we pick up at the back docks of retailers. Otherwise, this food would likely go to waste.

Even the federally purchased food we receive, which must be distributed according to certain guidelines, is often a consequence of our food system. For example, food purchased through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) has included trade mitigation purchases to offset lost sales to China. These programs provide stimulus to farmers while redirecting much-needed food to American households.

In short, food insecurity is not caused by a lack of food in the United States. Food insecurity is really a symptom of a larger problem, which is structural poverty and inequality.

Building an Abundance Mentality

So why are we committed to shifting to a mentality of abundance instead of scarcity? Indeed, many nonprofits fall into this trap of fear-focused messaging because it makes for more compelling fundraising. However, we know that approaching our work with a mindset of scarcity is bad for the people in our lines.

While we know that we will not run out of food, we understand that fear can put those thoughts into the minds of people in crisis, especially for those who are receiving food assistance for the first time. Seeing a long line of cars a mile down the road might make people worry there won’t be enough for someone at the back of the line — we assure you there is no need to worry.

In all fairness, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented set of circumstances. At the end of March, we began to worry about the food supply in our warehouse. As supplies in grocery stores began to dwindle across the country, we wondered what that would mean for our ability to procure food.

In April, we had to place a 30 day service limit on visits to our Drive Thru, something we have never had to do before. Thankfully, by May we were able to lift that service limit and take a deep breath as food sourcing was no longer an issue. We have a slogan here at The Foodbank: “We’ll figure it out.” And we always do.

It is important to note that while we are not constrained by the overall supply of food, our ability to meet the need in our community is dependent on our financial reserves and physical capacity. During the pandemic, we have had to purchase more food and equipment than previous years. Donations are as critical as ever to allow us to keep serving families who need us.

We distributed over 18 million pounds of food last year, and we couldn’t have done it without the backing of our community.

At the end of the day, our job is to continue serving our clients without judgment. It is not up to us to decide how they got to us, as we know hunger does not operate in a silo.

The people in our lines include the single mom who lives next door to you and was already barely making ends meet before the pandemic. It is the elderly man down the street who does not have any family to help him. It is the person who looks like you who is experiencing a financial emergency.

People have told us, “don’t feed the ducks or more will come.”

We say, send the ducks to us. We have plenty of duck food.

 

 


How our Drive Thru Food Pantry became critical to our disaster relief strategy

 How our Drive Thru Food Pantry became critical to our disaster relief strategy

During the pandemic, our Drive Thru has provided a low-contact way for us to offset increased need and partner agency closures

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

JoAnn, who has been visiting The Foodbank’s Drive Thru Food Pantry for two years, says receiving food has helped her stretch her budget and avoid grocery shopping. She has been saving money after being the victim of identity theft earlier this year.

“I didn’t even get my social security check, she said. “I probably would’ve gotten evicted. I didn’t have enough to pay.”

JoAnn, a senior enrolled in our Commodity Supplemental Food Program, is one of over 100,000 people served in our Drive Thru in 2020. The Drive Thru has seen unprecedented numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When our Drive Thru pantry was constructed in 2018, it began as an accessible means for our seniors to pick up their monthly Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP/Senior Box) boxes without having to get out of their car. 

While its purpose has evolved since then, the Drive Thru is still open Thursdays for seniors who are enrolled in the program to pick up their boxes. As this is a federal program administered by The Foodbank, these distributions are not open to the general public. To see if you qualify, visit www.thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood.

The Foodbank’s Drive Thru Food Pantry is funded with the generous support of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Dayton Power & Light Foundation.

The Turning Point

The value of the Drive Thru as a disaster relief tool first became apparent after 15 tornadoes ripped through the Dayton area, displacing thousands of people and causing widespread property damage. Over 4,000 people applied for federal disaster assistance in Montgomery County.

Strikingly, the storm hit areas already affected by poverty. In Trotwood, where at least 1,800 residents of an apartment complex were displaced, over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. At least 750 homes in Trotwood were still vacant as of November 2020.

The day after the storm, we were able to immediately open the Drive Thru to provide aid to people affected. It became a one-stop-shop for people to both drop off donations and pick up the supplies and food they needed. This is where we really started to see the Drive Thru’s potential in supporting our disaster relief efforts.

In the month of June 2019, immediately following the storm, we were able to keep our Drive Thru open five days a week to meet the increased need in our area. We served a total of 9,085 people that month.

A New Type of Disaster

Unknown to us, the tornado outbreak would prove to be a trial run to a more widespread crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When food insecurity rates jumped due to the pandemic, we were able to expand the days our Drive Thru was open to four days per week. These distributions are naturally low-contact and easy to adapt to emergency needs. 

Because the Drive Thru is attached to our warehouse, we need minimal notice to host a food distribution. This was especially critical at the height of the pandemic as only 70 of our 116 partner agencies remained open and serving food. 

We also learned an important lesson about our Drive Thru. While the Drive Thru is intended to supplement the hard work of our partner agencies, people experiencing food insecurity for the first time often come directly to us. Where appropriate, we encourage our direct service clients to call our emergency hotline to be referred to a local pantry that can better serve their needs.

Due to this tendency, the percent of households that were visiting a Foodbank program for the first time was upwards of 70% at some of our Drive Thru distributions.

Drive Thru attendance is still higher than it was this time last year. Note: 2019 increases from June to August are due to the Memorial Day tornado outbreak

Currently, our Drive Thru is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-3 pm. As our hours are subject to change, especially during holidays please refer to www.thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood.

If you wish to visit our Drive Thru, please bring a photo ID and understand that you must be living at or below 200% of the federal poverty limit (230% during COVID) to receive food. The most up-to-date eligibility guidelines can be found at the bottom of this page.

Our Drive Thru has proven time and time again to be our most reliable means of getting food on the tables of our community. It has allowed us to provide a sense of security and reliability to families during tornadoes, a pandemic, and everyday emergencies like a higher than usual heat bill.


The Foodbank, Inc. Congratulates Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary Nomination

The Foodbank, Inc. Congratulates Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary Nomination

The Foodbank, Inc congratulates Tom Vilsack on his nomination as Secretary for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) by the Biden-Harris Administration.

Secretary Vilsack’s previous 8 years’ experience as US Secretary of Agriculture under the Obama Administration will serve him well in his forthcoming role. It is our hope that Secretary Vilsack, who received the Food Research Action Center’s 2016 Distinguished Service Award, will apply the power of his position to address issues of food insecurity and nutrition quality throughout the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs. Without the support of SNAP, The Foodbank, Inc. and other food banks would be unable to meet the rise in hunger in our communities. As the administrator of SNAP and other nutrition programs, the USDA holds the keys to more substantive anti-hunger policies.

We look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and the Biden-Harris Administration to fulfill our vision that “no one should go hungry.”


Where our food goes

Where our food goes

We distribute food through agencies and programs of all shapes and sizes

By: Emily Gallion, Grants & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

Last fiscal year we distributed close to 18 million pounds of food. The last time we talked to you, we gave you the rundown of where we get our food from – but where in the world does 18 million pounds of food go? 

Partner Agencies

The heart of The Foodbank’s hunger relief programming is the acquisition and distribution of food to our 116 partner agencies. This is the critical difference between a food bank and a food pantry: While a pantry distributes food to individuals, a food bank’s central mission is to distribute food to other organizations. Without the hard work of our agencies, we could not reach the 935,404 individuals we served last fiscal year.

Partner agencies fall into five categories: pantries, meal sites, congregate programs, emergency shelters, and Kids Cafe meal sites.

Food pantries: Also known as grocery programs, food pantries make up the majority of our partner agencies. A pantry is any program that distributes groceries for clients to prepare at home. Last year, we provided food for 96 such organizations. Our pantries vary widely in size and type, from small church pantries to larger nonprofits that serve thousands each month.

Hot meal sites, congregate programs, and emergency shelters: Sometimes referred to as soup kitchens, hot meal sites include any organization that provides free meals to anyone who needs it. Some emergency shelters, which include domestic violence shelters and temporary housing for people in crisis, also receive food from us. Last fiscal year, we served 22 hot meal sites and shelters.

Kids Cafe meal sites: The Foodbank operates a Kids Cafe program that is administered by a variety of community partners, such as after school programs. The Kids Cafe program serves meals to children in the community. Kids Cafe is a registered trademark of Feeding America.

Drive Thru

The Foodbank operates a Drive Thru Food Pantry to meet the additional needs of our local community. The Drive Thru was originally conceptualized as a way to distribute senior boxes. It has since grown into a service for the greater community.

Visitors to our Drive Thru are entered into our client management system, PantryTrak. Our data, which includes attendance at our direct service programs and partner agencies, is reported on a monthly basis to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. Fluctuations in attendance at our programs can act as a barometer to identify changes in regional food insecurity.

To receive food from the Drive Thru, you must bring a drivers license and have an income at or below 200% (or 230% during the COVID-19 pandemic) of the federal poverty limit.

Food distributed at our Drive Thru is intended to supplement any food received at our partner agencies and through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As such, clients may not receive a complete set of groceries, but will receive a variety of food such as fresh produce, frozen meat, and bakery items.

As of December 2020, The Drive Thru is open Monday thru Wednesday from 1pm to 3pm. Hours are subject to change; check this page for more up to date information.

The Foodbank Mobile Farmers Markets

Every month, The Foodbank’s Mobile Farmers Markets deliver fresh food and produce to 15 locations at high risk for food insecurity. These locations are in areas of high poverty that do not have access to a local food pantry. Many of our clients served by the Mobile Farmer’s Markets are seniors who are homebound.

Our Mobile program also operates on a larger scale when we host Mass Distributions throughout the year. Typically we host three a year: one in Montgomery county, one in Greene county, and one in Preble county. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and an increased need for food across the board, we hosted seven mass distributions this year. Stay tuned to our social media pages for our 2021 Mass Distribution schedule. 

Last year, we distributed 1.8 million pounds of food through our Mobile Farmers Market programs.

To view our mobile schedule, visit https://thefoodbankdayton.org/agencies/needfood/.

Senior Boxes

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, better known as the Senior Box Program, is a federally funded program that provides seniors aged 60 and over a monthly box of food items catered to their dietary needs.

The Foodbank distributes just over 1,000 of these boxes each month at 16 different locations, including our on site drive thru.

For a deep dive on senior hunger, check out our blog post. Senior box qualifications and the application can be found here or by calling 937-461-0265 ext. 17.

Good to Go Backpacks

These meal packs are given to food insecure children who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches during the week, but are at risk of going hungry on weekends.

Students who are enrolled in this program receive a pack of healthy, kid friendly food that is discreetly placed in their backpacks every Friday. School personnel select students to participate based on signs of hunger, such as rushing lunch lines, hoarding food, and talking about not having food at home. 

Each backpack also contains a “love note” with an uplifting personal message and information regarding our emergency food line. This phone line is operated 24 hrs a day for families in need of immediate assistance. Our staff member will refer the caller to a partner agency or Foodbank program near them.

Last year, we had 1,520 students in 30 schools who participated in the program.

Rx Boxes

The Foodbank, in partnership with Dayton Children’s Hospital, created a Food Script Program that allows physicians and staff to write food prescriptions for hospital patient families who have been identified as food insecure. 

The food insecurity screenings are conducted by hospital community health workers, social workers, nurses, and staff. The primary target audience for this project is families with children who may be food insecure but are not already receiving food assistance.

Last year, these Rx Boxes were distributed to 522 households.

If you or someone you know is in need of food assistance, check out our overview of resources here. We also frequently post resources and up-to-date food distribution information on our Facebook page.