Farmers pitch in to feed hungry families
By STEVE BROWN
ADNA, Wash. -- Bill Reisinger knows what happens when volunteers work together. Scores of workers descended on his farm this year to harvest 130,000 pounds of produce for the county's food banks.
Reisinger carved out 8.5 acres from his wheat and grass fields to grow broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and squash.
"If every farmer put in 5 acres, jeez, that would have a lot of impact," he said as he walked through the sodden remains of the vegetable rows. "But without volunteers, no way this would work."
This was Reisinger's second year of growing for the Lewis County Food Bank Coalition, which has seven food banks. He did all the mechanical planting and furnished the irrigation and fertilizer, and the food banks provided transportation, he said.
He doesn't know how many people he helped feed, but he was impressed by the teams of workers that showed up, especially from local churches: Adventist students, the Catholic church and about 350 workers from the Latter-Day Saints.
"We got lots of thank-yous from the food bank," Mary Reisinger said. "They receive a lot of canned goods, and fresh food is usually not available."
Kim Eads, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture Food Assistance Program, said farmers are a key part of bringing nutrition to the homeless, the unemployed and the underemployed.
"We try to bring healthful foods into the system -- low sodium, low fat, more fresh or frozen," she said.
WSDA reported that June 2011 to June 2012 saw more than 8.6 million visits to food banks across Washington, 500,000 more visits than in the previous year.
The Food Assistance Program distributed 474 truckloads of USDA commodity foods, a total of 134 million pounds of food, 4 million more pounds than in 2011.
"More people are trying to balance their budget, especially in the winter," Eads said. "You either heat or eat. Come January, donations are down. Out of sight, out of mind, and it's hard for food banks to fill that need January through April."
WSDA director Dan Newhouse said, "In the coming holiday season, we can expect that food assistance programs will be stretched to meet the need in many communities. My hope is that new partnerships we've formed with ranchers and dairy farmers, as well as farmers producing a variety of fruits and vegetables, will help to fill this need and that others will also step up their efforts to help the hungry among us."
Eads said her agency partners with commodity groups and community groups to supply 500 food banks and meal programs.
"The partnerships look different in different areas," she said. "We connect farmers with local needs. We connect with dairy people and beef and the different commissions. Working with lead agencies like Americorps, we build relationships between farmers and food banks."
The Food Assistance Program works with an operational budget of $5.3 million, Eads said. It orders and receives USDA products, subcontracts for state-level warehousing and shipping and allocates food to the different groups.
It also provides state financial support to food banks for administrative costs; operational costs such as rent, salaries, gasoline for vehicles and supplies; purchase of food; nutrition training for staff and clients; and equipment.
The Washington State Department oversees four food assistance programs:
* EFAP/Food Bank Providers -- Emergency Food Assistance Program makes available state funds to local food providers to purchase food and equipment and to cover food bank and distribution center administrative and operational expenses.
* EFAP/Tribal Providers -- Emergency Food Assistance Program makes available state funds to federally recognized tribes or nonprofit agencies supporting tribes to provide food vouchers services and food bank services.
* TEFAP -- The Emergency Food Assistance Program serves low-income people in need with emergency food and nutrition assistance through distributions by food banks and meal providers.
* CSFP -- Commodity Supplemental Food Program works to improve the health of mothers, children and the elderly by providing food "packages" designated specifically to supplement their nutritional needs.
WSDA coordinates the distribution of 134 million pounds of food to food banks and meal programs. Much of that comes from local farmers and commodity commissions, as well as USDA products.