Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Food banks struggle to provide enough food in Tampa Bay

Food Banks across the U.S. strain to find enough food for the people they help. With unemployment increasing throughout the country, at times food banks are unable to keep up with the need.

A story from the St. Petersburg Times looks at the problem for the Tampa Bay, Florida area. One in Six people who live in Tampa Bay need emergency food assistance, that figure is higher than the national average.

Writer Mark Albright talks to Feeding America representatives about the never ending hunt for food.

"It's been a real eye opener into how quickly we're losing ground," said Pat Rogers, director of Feeding America Tampa Bay, a food bank for food banks. Food stamps and Agriculture Department supplements fill 90 percent of the dietary needs of the jobless and working poor. But an informal network gathers food for the other 10 percent in soup kitchens, shelters and church food pantries.

Collections cover only half the demand for the 50,700 people in the 10 counties surrounding Tampa Bay who get emergency food weekly.

One myth: Emergency food feeds the homeless. In fact, the homeless make up only 19 percent of the 409,000 people who got emergency food last year. Twice as many are families; 150,000 are children.

Feeding America is part of a national network that gathers food donated by manufacturers. One problem: Donations of overproduction, scratch-and-dent goods and products stocked close to their sell-by date declined as food industry distribution grew more efficient.

So on top of canned and dry goods, Feeding America locally added perishables to its service to get more protein. The nonprofit reorganized to gather produce and day-old baked goods from a growing list of chains from Aldi to Walmart.

The grocers stepped in after Mike Vail, president of Sweetbay Supermarket, took over as chairman of Feeding America's predecessor in 2002. It's an uneasy transition for wary food bank clients. Some balked at paying 5 to 18 cents a pound for donated food to offset transportation costs.

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