Hunger today arises from chronic poverty
by Mary Stamp
As president and CEO of Second Harvest and now 25 years in food bank and feeding-the-hungry services, Jason Clark expected there should have been a major drop in the numbers of people they serve, given the improvement in the economy in recent years.
"Instead, there is a shift in who comes to neighborhood food pantries," he said. "Ten years ago, it was families in short-term economic crises, running out of reserve funds because their car broke down or they had another unexpected emergency.
"Now we serve families who are chronically in poverty, coming 10 to 12 times a year," he said.
In some cases, they receive public benefits, but many do not.
Jason said the majority of those coming to food pantries and meal programs are grayer and younger.
Second Harvest distributes 30 million pounds of foods to pantries and meal programs—about 90 percent of its distribution. Now about 10 percent goes out in its Mobile Food Bank program on two trucks going to high-needs areas.
Second Harvest's programs also include nutrition education and cooking to help hungry people be more self-sufficient and use the food products more effectively.
With the Farm Bill pending in Congress, Jason said there could be "massive changes" to hunger programs—affecting food stamps and USDA commodities. There are different bills in the House and Senate, leaving those who feed hungry people uncertain about what the reconciliation bill will include.
Other factors affecting service are a 30 percent increase in transportation costs, a driver shortage and new federal regulations on trucking.
Tariffs will also affect farmers, even with talk of using USDA buying farm products to reduce the impact of tariffs.
Changes in tax laws bring uncertainty about how much donors will give. Private donors provide the majority of support. Jason expects most will donate as they have done because they are engaged, but some may make different decisions because the tax deduction is one—but not the only—consideration in what they give.
He expects to see effects of the tax laws in the next two years. Some tax advisors suggest people "bunch" giving in one year so they have enough for a deduction.
"We don't know what will affect donors' behavior," he said. "Many nonprofits are discussing that. Will it mean five percent less? Will it unlock more giving?"
Jason said the fiscal year ending in June was a "roller coaster," making it hard to plan, but Second Harvest "stays message focused and keeps going," because "hunger is unacceptable."
The faith community, which hosts many food pantries and programs, have struggled as members and volunteers face struggles, but "faith is the reason many keep giving," he said.
Jason, who began at Second Harvest in Spokane in 2002, grew up in St. Joseph, Mo., where he began work in a food bank in 1993.
"I am grateful to be involved in something that has an amazing message, serves people every day and makes a difference right away," he said. "It's common sense that if you feed children, seniors or anyone, they will do better."
Commenting on his Lutheran roots, he said, "that DNA is built in, giving me a sense of service, participation and caring about community.
Jason said about 80 percent of food bank work is supported by private funding from individuals, businesses, faith communities and community organizations.
"The average donation that keeps us running is $98," he said. "The instability is in larger gifts that have an outsize impact if they do not come in. We are an immediate-needs organization. We do not sit on a $20 million endowment."
In June, a matching grant totaling $148,000 from CenturyLink was met, said Jason, adding those larger funding opportunities are critical to allow Second Harvest to get food where it's most needed.
"The throttle on our system is our ability to move and transport food. We receive fresh produce from area growers that we then must have the capacity to package and distribute to neighborhood outlets," he said.
Jason said Second Harvest also seeks donations of packaging—cardboard boxes and plastic bags—to repackage donations. For example, a 2,000-pound load of potatoes is packaged into three or five pound bags that a family can use. With more packaging, Second Harvest could distribute more food in the 26 counties it serves.
In the volunteer sort room, 40,000 pounds of potatoes awaited a shift with some of the 8,000 volunteers a year who help Second Harvest in both its Spokane and Pasco distribution centers.
"Volunteers are excited to be able to give to someone and to the community," said Julie Humphreys, community relations manager. "We have no shortage of volunteers. People want to engage themselves, their groups and their companies."
September is Hunger Action Month in the national Feeding American network that includes Second Harvest.
"There is hunger in every community, and volunteers can help by donating their time," she said.
During part of the month, the smokestacks of the old Steam Plant in downtown Spokane will be lit in orange light to remind people of their hungry neighbors.
"One in seven people in Spokane, one in eight in the Inland Northwest, including one in five children, are food insecure, not knowing where their next meal is coming from," she said.
"Lines at the mobile food banks make it real for me," said Jason. "Many people are underemployed. It's easy to forget how expensive it is to live in America."
To expand the beyond two trucks for the new Mobile Market, the Spokane Transit Authority donated a bus last year. With donations, Second Harvest retrofitted the bus and turned it into a portable grocery store with refrigeration and shelving.
"We will soon take it into neighborhoods with specific needs," he said.
While the Mobile Markets have gone to schools and church parking lots, the retrofitted bus will go to targeted areas like Hillyard and Northeast Spokane.
People will experience the Mobile Market bus like making choices in grocery shopping. Nutrition ambassadors will offer samples and demonstrate how to prepare the foods.
"Many people face barriers to going to food pantries, one being transportation," Julie said. "We hope to do 90 visits with the bus the first year."
Second Harvest has done Mobile Markets since 2006 with two semi-trucks bringing 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food to schools, community centers and church parking lots.
Mobile Markets provide fresh food to feed 250 to 300 families each time, said Julie. Several go out each week—about 200 a year.
Mobile Markets require no proof of residency or income, in contrast with food banks that may set standards to serve a particular neighborhood, have income requirements and may limit the number of times people can come.
Mobile Markets only ask for a phone number to track food in case of a recall.
"Because our the Mobile Market on the bus is set up so people can choose what they want to take, rather than picking up a prepared box of food at a food pantry, they are more likely to cook and eat the foods they receive," Julie said.
According to recent studies, about 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted. Feeding America rescues food from farmers, manufacturers and businesses.
Hunger Action Month in September highlights the need and asks people to be part of the solution to hunger by being aware, donating, volunteering or advocating, Julie said.
Second Harvest, which began in Spokane in 1971, also offers Bite2GO, weekend food packs in area schools; a School Pantry program for students and families, and The Kitchen, which teaches scratch cooking and nutrition.
Second Harvest supplies 2 million pounds of food each month to 250 food banks and meal centers, the Mobile Markets and other programs, feeding 55,000 people a week.
For information, call 534-6678 or visit 2-harvest.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2018