The Shared Harvest Foodbank of Fairfield, Ohio is experiencing an ongoing food shortage that is affecting its ability to provide food to the needy over the holiday season.
Shared Harvest, a branch of the national food bank Second Harvest, works to get donations in bulk to distribute to local private organizations, such as charities and soup kitchens.
“We are like the warehouse for charitable food distribution,” Shared Harvest Executive Director Tina Osso said.
According to Osso, most of the donations come from food companies such as Nabisco and Keebler, which donate their surplus or close to code, meaning almost out-of-date, product. Second Harvest, a national organization, has a contract with companies such as this to make them the charity of choice to send all or most of their donations to.
Osso said the rest of the donations for Shared Harvest and Second Harvest come from two United States Department of Agriculture programs-the emergency food assistance program that provides food to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, and the commodity supplement program that provides food for reduced school lunches, food stamps and senior feeding programs. She added that about 10 percent of their donations come from food drives.
With the decrease in donations, the pantry does not have enough to help charities get through the season, according to Osso.
“This year is the first year that we have not been able to help them prepare the food baskets because we don’t have the inventory,” Osso said.
Osso said that the problem with donations stems from several sources. The first is that Second Harvest never quite recovered from Hurricane Katrina.
“The donations started trending downwards a couple of years ago, and then when Katrina hit, a good amount of our national resources were focused on the immediate recovery and immediate needs of the families along the gulf coast that were displaced from the hurricane,” Osso said.
The second source, Osso explained, is the fact that large food corporations have gradually decreased donations. Osso estimates that 40 percent of the eight million pounds of food donated comes from the food industry and decreasing this amount has proved to be detrimental to the stability of the food supply.
The reason for the decrease, according to Osso, stems from the increasing efficiency of these corporations in using their stock, leaving less excess stock available to donate to organizations such as Second Harvest.
“They have gotten better at what they do, so there is less merchandise for them to donate,” Osso said.
The third source of the shortage, according to Osso, is the holding of the farm bill. The farm bill is legislation that has 10 titles dealing with a variety of programs, ranging from the commodity programs to renewable energy funding.
According to Adam Sharp, the director of national affairs for the Ohio Farm Bureau, the legislation is being held up in the Senate.
“They are trying to work out a deal to move the bill forward, maybe as early as this week,” Sharp said.
According to Sharp, the goal of Congress is to pass the bill through the Senate before Congress recesses for the holidays, and eventually get the bill finalized by both the House and Senate and signed by the president before March 2008.
“Realistically I am not sure how they can get a bill done before March 1,” Sharp said.
In the meantime, many organizations, like Shared Harvest, are seeing the consequences of the bill’s delayed passing. As of Oct. 1, 2007 the funding for several of the programs, such as the emergency food assistance program and the commodity supplemental food program, has been reduced or dropped due to the expiration of the bill, according to Osso.
“Congress will have to do something pretty quick,” Sharp said.
Shared Harvest is dealing with the consequences of politics this season, and is attempting to deal with the shortage the best they can. According to Osso, Shared Harvest simply needs more donations and funding, not volunteers.
“We are overwhelmed with volunteers right now,” Osso said. “February and March people kind of go back to their busy lives, so right now what we need is food. We will need hands after the first of the year, but right now the critical need is food.”