Tariff relief and food insecurity

Have you ever wondered where the money comes from for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP?) At one time this program was called Food Stamps, even earlier it was Government Surplus Food. And before that the Commodity Donation Program. These programs have been part of our economy since the Great Depression left farmers with products that few could afford to buy.

Guess what? These programs are part of USDA. Why?

These programs are designed to help farmers. This year, another program, designed to help farmers suffering from the impact of the Chinese tariffs, is trickling down to the needy. The Food Purchase and Distribution Program (FPDP) allows the government to purchase surplus commodities affected by trade retaliation such as fruits, vegetables, some processed foods, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and milk for distribution to food banks, schools, and other outlets serving low-income individuals.

Food pantries, School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Summer Food Service Program, as well as SNAP recipients benefit from the food that the government pays the farmers for.

Any business, including farms, that donates apparently wholesome food for charitable purposes to a non-profit organization may claim a tax deduction. The tax deduction reduces businesses taxable income, which is used to calculate the amount of taxes owed. Farmers are also protected from liability for food that is donated in “good faith.” And they are protected from civil and criminal liability if someone gets injured while collecting food for charity.  

All of this is good, for sure. But it left me wondering, why do we thumb our noses at the recipients of surplus food and not at the recipient of the government monies?

As a daughter of a farmer who refused to benefit from government programs, and as a former recipient of both Government Surplus Food and Food Stamps, I decided to contact Crystal Lake Food Pantry. Bill Eich and Marguerite Greelish who explained the current program to me.

This year, because of the abundance of subsidies and incentives for farmers and businesses, food pantries have been faced with an interesting conundrum. So I asked the question:

How do you distribute and store all of this food?

Luckily for Crystal Lake Food Pantry, they have a freezer. “The tariff relief provided $1.4 billion in relief to farmers. A huge amount went to pork farmers,” explained Bill. “Because we are approved to repackage and store donated food, we don’t have a problem redistributing the food.” Produce and dairy products are also part of the tariff relief program.

Marguerite went on to explain that the pork and other food can come in very large packages, and the Crystal Lake Pantry has the ability to follow all of the USDA guidelines for food handling. “We can repackage goods in packages for a variety of family sizes.”

Crystal Lake Food Pantry recently gained approval to distribute excess food to other food pantries in the area. The food designated for other food pantries in the area is stored separately and the other pantries can only access that storage area.

Emergency Food Program food can only be distributed to food pantries that do not have a religious agenda.

“Most of the pantries are run by volunteers,” Marguerite reminded me. Some are in church basements and do not have storage areas. I remembered Betty, one of the volunteers that runs the local Summer Food Service Program. She told me that was a problem she had. Her group fed children in the park during the summer regardless of the family’s ability to pay. Without cold storage, it limited their menu and nothing could be held over until the next day. To reduce the stigma, Betty’s group included entertainment for the kids. Sometimes a musician or a magician or a storyteller would be in the park at lunchtime.

I asked Marguerite how Crystal Lake Food Pantry addresses the stigma associated with getting food from the Pantry.

“Our Pantry is designed with dignity.”

Indeed, the Pantry is like a high-end grocery store. The volunteers prepare samples and a nutritionist offers cooking classes. “Some people are unfamiliar with the food we have on the shelves,” Marguerite told me. The classes also good eating habits for people with chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Volunteers help people fill out forms and offer a variety of connections or referrals for potential issues, such as legal advice, veterans affairs, medical and social problems, and domestic abuse.

There are other ideas in the works for on-line shopping or having an Amazon type locker pickup to help remove the stigma associated with food insecurity. However, Marguerite and Bill agreed that the personal connection is one of the benefits of Crystal Lake Food Pantry.

Sometimes we are the only people that a patron has talked to all week.”

According to Marguerite, Senior Citizens are one of the more underserved in the food insecure community. They often don’t want to take advantage of government benefits or they think other people need it more.

Besides coming to the Food Pantry, there are mobile food trucks that go to senior centers. The Senior Box Program delivers non-perishables once a month. During the school year, children eligible for free or reduced lunches can be enrolled in the Back Pack Program. Every week these children receive a rolling back pack containing 40 pounds of food to take home to their families. Bill told me that only schools that have at least 50% of the children enrolled in the lunch program are eligible for the Back Pack Program, which limits the distribution to only three schools in the area.

Annual Community Harvest boxes coming soon.

If you live in the area, you’ll start seeing boxes for non-perishable donations the end of October. Collection and sorting takes place at Crystal Lake Food Pantry from 8-10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Sign up on the website, https://www.clfoodpantry.org, or simply drop in and help. The website is full of information about the Pantry and schedule for Mobile Pantry and more. I know many families that make this part of their holiday tradition.

Of course, you don’t need to wait for Community Harvest. Food pantries are almost always willing to take non-perishable items. And you don’t need to live in the area to help people suffering from food insecurity.

Families of all sizes and ages are welcome to help.

If you don’t live in the area and you are moved to help those with food insecurity, please check out Feeding America.

Thank you!

Here are some links to previous articles I wrote about food insecurity and the Crystal Lake Food Pantry.