Federal Emergency Food Program Helps Feed Hungry DC Area Residents

As I recently wrote, the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is said to need a supplemental appropriation because it can’t otherwise provide enough food commodities to meet the increasing pressures on food banks.

Still on my learning curve, I contacted Marian Peele, the Director of Agency Relations at the Capital Area Food Bank, to find out what the situation is there.

CAFB is the Feeding America network partner for the greater Washington D.C. area. It uses federal funds channeled through the D.C. and Virginia state governments to purchase TEFAP food commodities. It also gets free TEFAP bonus commodities when they’re available and suitable to its needs.

All told, CAFB distributes about 23 million pounds of food a year. Nearly 14% of this comes through TEFAP. The rest is donated by various food industry sources and food collected by a vast number of organizations and individuals.

CAFB distributes the food it gets to more than 700 partner agencies, i.e., local nonprofits that either prepare and serve them or give them to low-income people to take home. Organizations I’ve written about before, including Bread for the City, Miriam’s Kitchen and So Others Might Eat are all partner agencies and thus, in part, dependent on TEFAP. CAFB also distributes some food directly to local low-income residents.

Peele says that TEFAP foods are “an enormous help to [their] agencies and thus the community members who receive them.” She says they’re often healthier choices than foods donated from other sources, except for the fresh produce CAFB gets from local farmers.

As we know, the recession has vastly increased the number of people needing emergency food assistance. The newspapers are full of stories about people going to food pantries who never sought help before. Feeding America reports that its food bank network is serving one in eight Americans–46% more than in 2006.

Calls to the CAFB Hunger Lifeline, an emergency food referral, have increased 91%. Peele says that partner agencies report increases in food distributions ranging from 85% to 200%. They’re dealing with longer lines, cutting back on portions and still running out of food faster than ever before.

The organizations that are calling for a supplemental appropriation say that it’s needed to avert a drop of 50% or more in the dollar value of this year’s bonus commodity donations. This doesn’t mean that CAFB would receive that much less. But it does show what the food bank may be up against as it tries to keep up with the rising tide of hunger in our nation’s capital.

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