The Doing Good blog follows area charities and social service agencies.
About Amy Umble: Amy Umble writes about religion and social issues affecting the Fredericksburg community.
A day in the life of the food bank
Sunday, we ran a story about hunger in our area–especially among senior citizens. Funny thing about that story: I wanted to double-check the numbers I used from the Department of Agriculture at the last minute, but the website was down because of the government shut down.
Anyway, since we’re on the topic of hunger, here’s some interesting information from the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank. When I ran a blog post this summer about SERVE needing more food and money to help the needy, some people were confused or angry about the shared maintenance fee I mentioned. This is a standard thing at many food banks across the country, where they charge the food pantries money per pound of food. The money goes to help the food bank’s overhead and other costs. It’s always surprising when people learn that food pantries do pay for food from the food bank, so I asked the food bank to give me a “day in the life” of food donations, to help people understand what the shared maintenance fee is and how it works.
It’s a little bit long, but I thought it contained some interesting information–I learned a few things, even though I’ve been through the food bank many times. This is from Dayle Reschick, the resource and development director at the food bank:
We have enough food in this country yet 30,380 of our neighbors struggle with hunger and food insecurity each day. Over 30% of the hungry in our community are children under 18 years of age and 16% are seniors living on fixed incomes.
When you donate food to the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank our 74 partner agency pantries and programs distribute that food directly to the hungry of Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, the City of Fredericksburg and neighboring communities.
In the hours before sunrise, two drivers who operate the trucks at the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank arrive and prepare their vehicles to receive the day’s donations. Setting out in two vehicles, their
day will end eight hours later, after visiting on average eight grocery retailers and super centers in Spotsylvania, Stafford, King George, and Fredericksburg. During that time, the trucks will return to the
Fredericksburg Area Food Bank twice, mid-morning a received into inventory and again at 2 p.m., and unload donations.
In the meantime, back at the food bank, volunteers and staff arrive and begin the day’s work, preparing to distribute more than eight tons (that’s 16,000 pounds) of food to area food pantries. Before it can be distributed the food must be weighed, categorized by product type, inspected for damage and code date according to regulations of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and VDA (Virginia Department of Agriculture). Next it must be received into the computerized inventory system (ensuring first in the building is first out), and staged on the warehouse floor. Staff and volunteers trained and certified in food safety and sortation procedures will oversee the processing of the food, ensuring that all food made available to the partner agencies is acceptable for distribution.
At 11 a.m., a tractor trailer delivered 30,000 pounds of purchased food. Part is to be used to pack 1,800 bags for the weekend feeding program, Food 4 Kids. The remainder is ordered to meet the needs of area food pantries. Donations of much needed food such as peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, fruits and vegetables, are not enough to meet the needs of the 30,000 people who frequent over 70 food pantries in the region. The Fredericksburg Area Food Bank purchases a list of 10 most needed items and keeps them on hand, to be distributed at cost at partner agency’s request.
At mid-day, a gleaning project that was completed at a Caroline County farm delivered 2,000 pounds of fresh eggplant and green peppers. Fresh produce is welcomed year-round, but is especially abundant during the summer months.
Shortly before 2 p.m., another trailer arrives, this time with 20,000 pounds of USDA Commodity food; over half is frozen chicken leg quarters. Yes, the food bank does accept perishable items. In fact, the freezer and cooler at the food bank can hold more than a tractor trailer of frozen/refrigerated food.
In all, more than 750 separate food donations will be processed through the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank during any given month. Each will require the same painstaking oversight of the receiving, inspection, sorting, stocking, and distribution process.
The Fredericksburg Area Food Bank processes more than 680 orders for food each month from agency partners and food bank operated feeding programs. The successful receipt of 300,000 pounds of food is required every month to provide our 74 partner agency food pantries and meal programs with a wide variety of items with which to stock their pantry shelves or meal program for distribution to the hungry.
THE OTHER HALF OF THE STORY
Now you know how the food becomes available to the food assistance network; the FAFB and our agency pantries. You may wonder how the food gets to the 30,380 hungry of our community.
Currently 74 community organizations comprised of faith-based and non-profit agencies have joined the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank. On any given day, 20-25 partner agencies arrive at the food bank to select the food items they need for their pantry or meal program. They then take the food back to their pantry site and prepare for distribution to those in need.
The assortment of food available to the pantries varies depending on what is available from the donations that are processed at the food bank each day from area merchants and community food drives. Generally, bread, bakery, meat, produce, canned or boxed items, and non-foods such as toiletries and paper goods are available.
From its inception, the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank has relied on the efforts of our partner agencies for success in meeting the needs of the hungry. Our partner agencies enter into agreements with the food bank to share in the maintenance of the food distribution program and to never charge the hungry for food.
The partner agency agreements contain language that express the need to share in the maintenance of the food reclamation process so we can keep our trucks on the road and the lights on for service.
Depending of the type of food selected by the partner agency each month, the shared maintenance charge will vary and can range from free to our cost.
As an example of how one partner agency food pantry might take advantage of the services provided by the food bank, here is a recap of the food received by a Stafford pantry during a recent month.
Of the eight tons of food a Stafford pantry obtained from the Food Bank in July, nearly 5 tons or 59% was provided at a no shared maintenance fee, meaning free of charge. Just over 1 ton or 2,300 pounds of non-perishable food was obtained by this agency at a shared maintenance fee of .19 cents per pound.
The Food Bank does not charge a shared maintenance fee for any USDA government commodities, or products such as bread, produce or other items with a limited shelf life.
The food bank also offers purchased product. Ten of the most requested items are always available from the purchased product selections. Purchased food is offered at wholesale cost to food pantries in an effort to provide an economical alternative to the organization purchasing product at retail.
Last month this Stafford pantry also chose to participate in our Purchased Food Program which allows our partner agency pantries to purchase case lots of food at cost. These foods are sourced through a vast network of manufactures thanks to our partnership with Feeding America. Through the purchased food program this pantry was able to obtain over 2 tons of food to provide to the hungry of Stafford County. This accounts for 88% of their food costs through the FAFB last month.
Meeting the needs of the hungry requires us to work together. At the food bank we love to give our partner agencies choice. Choice in how they wish to serve the community and choice in ways they meet the needs of the hungry. At the FAFB we try to provide as many food choices as possible to include food from food drives, daily merchant donations and purchased food items to ensure when our partner agencies come to get food from the FAFB they can decide how to best stock their shelves for distribution to create a hunger free community.