The Vermont Foodbank and its network of 270 food shelves, meal sites, shelters, senior centers and after-school programs are experiencing record demand for our services. Thousands of families are finding it harder to make ends meet, struggling with only one wage earner or reduced hours and wages. And as the need for food assistance dramatically increases, the charitable food system is working with fewer and fewer resources.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is an income-based federal program that provides food at no cost to low-income Americans in need of short-term hunger relief through organizations like the Vermont Foodbank. During FY 2012, the Foodbank saw a 50% reduction in its allotment of TEFAP food; that is over one million pounds of food.
“This lack of food is having a ripple effect,” said John Sayles, Vermont Foodbank CEO. “Many of our partners are struggling to keep food on their shelves while providing for those in need walking through their doors. And while grocers, food manufacturers and financial donors have been generous, the Foodbank still struggles to fill the void of the 1.2 million pounds of food that we were counting on.”
In Chittenden County, the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf relies heavily on TEFAP to meet the growing demand for food assistance. Each year, the Food Shelf serves more than 12,000 Vermonters who are struggling with hunger. TEFAP provides the Food Shelf with foods high in protein, fruits, vegetables, and staple food items such as cereals, pastas, with special foods for vulnerable populations including children and seniors.
According to Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf Director Rob Meehan, “We are seeing more working families in need at a time when our food donations this past year (mostly TEFAP) were down 500,000 pounds from the previous year.” Meehan says he is worried at how this will impact those who are most vulnerable such as children, seniors and people with disabilities.
With a reduction in TEFAP and potentially devastating cuts to SNAP or 3SquaresVT and other harmful policy changes as currently proposed in the Farm Bill, the Foodbank and its network will likely see even more demand for food assistance. Difficult decisions about reducing services to the most vulnerable Vermonters are likely.
“At a time when many Vermonters are struggling to make ends meet, many low-income households – including working families, the elderly and children – rely on emergency food shelves for short-term hunger relief, said Senator Bernie Sanders. “It is simply unacceptable that in this day and age, Vermont children go to bed hungry. And, it is unconscionable that the federal government would cut back on food and nutrition assistance to states as our nation struggles to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
“The Vermont Foodbank and our partner food shelves and meal sites need help to close the gap,” said Sayles. “Financial donations to local food shelves and meal sites and to the Foodbank allow us to fill that gap with nutritious foods purchased by the truckload at wholesale prices. Purchased food allows the charitable food network to replace the lost USDA foods with what the network needs, when they need it.”