Foodbanks in Crisis: Leading through Uncertainty

April 05, 2022 00:35:01
Foodbanks in Crisis: Leading through Uncertainty
Just a Bite
Foodbanks in Crisis: Leading through Uncertainty

Apr 05 2022 | 00:35:01


Show Notes

In this episode, Sarah meets with the association’s executive director, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, and the president & CEO of Second Harvest Foodbank of North Central Ohio, Julie Chase-Morefield. They discuss what Ohio’s foodbanks are experiencing amid rising costs and supply chain shortages and what makes these two foodbank leaders proud to lead, especially during these challenging times. They round out the discussion by talking about what they hope to see over the course of the upcoming year and what opportunities there are on both the state and federal levels to support our foodbanks and the clients we serve.  



See our ARPA request and our tweet thread detailing our request.  

With inflation, supply-chain kinks, plight of Ohio food banks grows, by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal 

Ohio food banks urge lawmakers to take action amid ‘impossible scenario’ for many families, by Lisa Hamler-Fugitt and Daniel R. Flowers, Akron Beacon Journal Opinion 

Support the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio through the annual Harvest for Hunger Campaign, going on now.

Apply to serve through one of our many AmeriCorps VISTA positions, available throughout Ohio, or encourage someone you know to consider national service.

Find your local foodbank to find help, volunteer, and donate here.  

Make sure you are getting all the tax credits that you are entitled to here.  

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We are licensed to use the song, Goals and Dreams by Boomer, which is distributed and owned by PremiumBeat. 

Ohio Association of Foodbanks is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization without party affiliation or bias. We are Ohio’s largest charitable response to hunger and our mission is to assist Ohio’s 12 Feeding America foodbanks in providing food and other resources to people in need and to pursue areas of common interest for the benefit of people in need.  

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:20 Hi, everyone. Welcome back to just a bite today. I speak to our executive director, Lisa handler, few get and the CEO of second harvest food bank of north central Ohio, and our board chair, Julie Chase. Morefield we talk about the state of Ohio's food banks, what we're seeing on the ground right now and what we hope to see over the coming year. It's an interesting one. So I hope you'll enjoy Speaker 1 00:01:02 Hi, Julie. Hi Lisa. Thank you both for being on the podcast today. Um, why don't we start out with introductions? So Julia, if you wanted to get started. Speaker 2 00:01:12 Sure. My name is Julie Chase Morefield I'm the president and CEO with the second harvest food bank of north central Ohio in Lorraine. Speaker 1 00:01:20 Perfect. And Lisa, Speaker 3 00:01:22 We say Himmler, a few good. I serve as the executive director of the Ohio association of food banks, so high, largest charitable response to hunger. Speaker 1 00:01:31 Awesome, great. So we have two food bank leaders within our network, um, on the line today. Um, and really just going to be talking about, you know, the state of our network, um, and what we're seeing right now. So, Julie, I was wondering if you could start us off by kind of giving us a brief overview of what you're seeing at your food bank and, uh, your partner agencies right now, you know, things like how many households that you're seeing at your, your distributions and how your food bank is fairing against rising costs and supply chain shortages. Speaker 2 00:02:12 Sure. Uh, I think the word right now is probably unpredictability. We continue to see large fluctuations in, in need within our communities that we serve. So we serve Lorraine eerie Huron and proffered counties, and we will have a mobile distribution where we'll serve 500 families. Um, and then we'll have another one where we expect 600 and we serve 400, you know, last week we had a distribution on a Thursday and ran out of food before the end of the distribution. Um, it's very difficult to predict what the need is at the moment. And we also are seeing so many challenges within supply chain. So trying to bring the food in to our facility, um, you know, purchasing so much more food than we ever have informed. We were purchasing three times as much food as we did pre pandemic. And it's really unsustainable. I mean, as an organization, you know, that's just a huge amount of money that we're spending, but we don't see any other choice at the moment. Speaker 2 00:03:12 Um, retail food donations have dropped off pretty dramatically, and I think everybody's seeing those holes at the grocery store. Um, not only for perishable products, but for all products. Um, and that's the same thing that's affecting, you know, not only our food bank, but food banks across the state and across the country and that there are shortages of people to can the products or to buy box the products at facilities. Um, but also not enough truck drivers to drive the food, you know, not enough, you know, not enough of everything, paper, shortages, lumen, and canned shortages. I mean, all of those things, um, are affecting everybody and driving up food costs. Um, so at a time when we need as much food as possible to feed as many families as possible, it's harder now to get it than it has been in. I don't know that I've ever seen challenges like this in supply. Um, and I've been in food banking for over 20 years. Speaker 1 00:04:04 Yeah. And a lot of the supports that we have had are expiring or running out, um, it seems like what you're experiencing is very consistent across the board with what the other Ohio food banks are, are seeing as well as, you know, food banks across the nation. Uh, Lisa, could you give us some context as to what is happening around the state? Um, give us a few examples of how we and the food banks are feeling the squeeze. Speaker 3 00:04:34 Yeah. I think Julie, you really hit the nail on the head, you know, after 20 years in the food bank world, I think the unpredictability of the pandemic and in the two years of, of closure and the challenges that I think many of us thought quite frankly, that we would start to see a return to normal. And I could say that that there is nothing normal. I guess I fear that this may be the new normal that as we enter, um, the third year of the pandemic, uh, supply chain issues tend to, uh, be, uh, more unstable and unreliable. Uh, we understand the surgeon demand going into the pandemic where a lot of the foods that were, um, manufactured, processed and packaged were going into restaurant, uh, or, uh, consumer non-consumer, um, household size. And now what we're seeing is just shortages, as Julie said, across the board, uh, some of that certainly is being driven by supply chain. Speaker 3 00:05:44 We're having some significant issues around consolidation, certainly on the meat processing. Uh, we are dealing with climate change global demands, uh, right now, or we have just experienced the largest, uh, war on wheat price increase ever in our history of eggs. So as an example, eggs are one of the most affordable, uh, sources of protein that we have in the network. And one of our longtime suppliers notified us last week on a three day notice that egg prices had increased by 50 cents a dozen. Um, and again, trying to get, um, high quality, low cost proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables onto the dinner plates of, of low-income Ohioans is becoming increasingly more challenged. Also inflation. Julie said that, um, their large fluctuations in demand, certainly for low wage workers, we are starting to hear again while they may be on the schedule for 40 hours. Speaker 3 00:06:57 If sales, uh, or business is not there, then they are being sent home home. So again, budget on a 40 hour paycheck, but if you're only getting 20 hours, then you're going to be making trade-offs between, do I have money to pay my rent or do I have money to go to the grocery store? And again, that market basket, we're all experiencing that, that same market basket of goods that we purchased a month ago have gone up substantially. And some of those items may not even be available because of supply chain shortages. So we are, again, starting to see more people, especially the low-income working poor again, who may not be getting the hours that they thought. But the ones that I'm really concerned about are seniors and persons with disability that are out of the labor market and are trying to live on very low fixed incomes. Speaker 3 00:07:56 And they are being forced to make difficult decisions about do I put what limited income that I have in my gas tank to be able to get to my doctor's appointments or other commitments, do I pay my rent or my mortgage? Do I purchase my medications or pay my, my utilities? And unfortunately the most fungible portion in anybody's budget is what they have to spend on food and that's getting cut. So again, people are turning to us, especially in this population of seniors, who again are the canaries in the coal mine, um, and, uh, the loss of federal fiscal relief and recovery that you spoke a little bit about that appears to really be hitting families with children. They lost that really valuable, uh, child tax credit at the end of last year. And they have now had three months without that additional income, which for some families that, that was a lot of money, $700 that you had in your budget last year that are, you know, $700. It's not there on a monthly basis this year with the rapidly rising cost of everything going up. That again, they're being forced to make difficult decisions. I also want to say these families don't first turn to a local food bank or food pantry to get food. They're using multiple different coping strategies before they show up on our door. So again, another sign of the times that that families are really in, in Ohioans are really struggling because of a confluence of issues. Speaker 1 00:09:35 Yeah. Um, and I know that we've mostly touched on sort of the storm that we'll have food banks and our clients are weathering right now, but I also want it to really acknowledge how resilient our network is. Our network has been there since the very beginning of the pandemic and beforehand, um, and has really, um, tried their best to make sure that they're serving their communities, our food banks, partner agencies, and their staff have been on the front lines for two years. And our network has served 242 million meals to 3.8 million households in fiscal year 2021. Um, it's really incredible to know that food banks have not stopped serving their communities, um, even when they were truly were worried, what would happen next? So could you provide some examples or some highlights or successes you have seen over the past year or so, Lisa, um, and what has made you proud to lead? Speaker 3 00:10:43 Um, I think that, that the coming together, um, the staff who again, were on the front lines, especially in those early days of not really understanding the complexity or how highly contagious COVID, uh, was that, um, that they really doubled down and just continue to serve our hungry friends and neighbors, uh, the support of the Ohio national guard, um, which were tremendous reinforcements and boots on the ground that really came in, as I said, and save the day, the charitable nature of, um, philanthropy, individuals and corporations and foundations that really came forward in a response, uh, that helped significantly, um, our support and the additional support that we did receive from the state of Ohio, um, to help us to acquire the additional food, um, the supports that we received through USDA, but, but really the commitment from the frontline staff and workers, uh, who were in there pulling more orders than they ever pulled before to standing up direct distributions across the state in really challenging situations. Speaker 3 00:12:11 And I say that, you know what, in those early days of the pandemic and, and throughout the height of the pandemic, oftentimes we turn on our television sets and see long lines queuing, uh, people that were desperate for food. And, and while that was happening in PIO, uh, we were able to respond much more quickly and efficiently and effectively than other states. And I think that speaks to the tremendous commitment of not only our staff, our boards, our volunteers, and the national guard. So, uh, those are some of the things that I'm proud of stuff. I will tell you that we are in many cases, a weary warriors, um, the demand again has not diminished, and there are new sets of challenges that are now presenting to us. And we do worry. I will tell you, I worry the most about whether the philanthropy will con will begin to Wade. Speaker 3 00:13:14 And as a government really understand both the federal, the state, the local level, there are tremendous need that we now face among the challenges that Julie laid out, which is the supply chain challenge, just the need more for more healthy food, the increasing costs that we are experiencing, um, to, to be able to purchase and keep food on the shelves. And again, if we're experiencing, in some cases, 20, 25, 30% increases, it means we have to raise that much more money. So we're going to need the community to come together at a time to help us continue to get through these challenging inflationary, driven times until supply chains start to work themselves out. And we can get some additional federal fiscal relief into the pockets and of, uh, low-income Ohio Ohioans, as well as additional commodities into our system. Speaker 1 00:14:14 Yeah. And Julie, what about you both as CEO of a food bank, but also our board chair, Speaker 2 00:14:21 You know, so much has known right now about the pandemic, um, in terms of the ability, uh, our safety, what we needed to do, but at the time that it started with my team there, nothing, no. Um, and yet they all went forward, you know, knowing that this was so critical to the community, knowing there was a need, seeing the lines, looking into the faces of, you know, wait staff who had been turned away from their job. Um, you know, not knowing where the food was going to come from, not knowing how to feed their families, you know, that, that continued push to serve people, to make sure that we were meeting the needs of our, of our community members. And so looking back, it doesn't seem, you know, maybe it doesn't seem as extraordinary as it was. Um, but there was never a moment where they wavered. Speaker 2 00:15:10 And even, you know, now more than two years later, they continue to talk about, um, you know, and I asked my team, they are so committed to the mission of our organization and being able to serve people that that's never wavered. Um, they're tired. Um, and this continued fluctuations and need, and unpredictability continues to weigh on all of them, but they understand, you know, the deep need within the community and that that's their role to serve. So I'm so proud of them for continuing on. Um, and we've added a lot of new people and there's a lot of new faces at food banks that weren't there before, because we continue to try to meet needs and meet the bands in different ways. You, the pandemic taught us a lot about how to deliver services. And so moving into this mobile direct food distribution model, something we were doing before, but not, um, not in a drive-through model, not in the method that we were doing it. Speaker 2 00:16:11 And so to be able to move to this drive through model and see that we've reached people in a different way, people that were afraid to come to food pantries, people that, you know, couldn't stand in the line, um, you know, have small children, you know, just, it's just not feasible for them, but also because of the fear and the stigma associated with standing in line at a food pantry that this freed them up to be able to come and to ask for help. And we see this, you know, not only is the need higher, we know the needs higher with seniors, but we specifically see this with seniors. Um, you know, more than 20, we have 21%, you know, as, as you this year to date, um, you know, 2400% of who we serve our seniors over the age of 60. And part of that is because they feel very comfortable coming to a drive through distribution because that's a space that, you know, they don't worry about getting sick. Speaker 2 00:17:01 They don't worry about, um, you know, having to lift something or carry boxes, a long distance, you know, it can be put into their car, you know, or someone can go by proxy and pick up food for them. Um, so, you know, so we're reaching people that we weren't racing before, and this is helping to inform our work going forward. Uh, we have a couple of different projects that we're working on, you know, one is food forward, the rain and the other is a community hub project. And so that's key, you know, thinking about how do we deliver services differently. How do we look at that intersection between health and hunger? How do we, you know, think through, you know, making sure that if you are a senior and you are, you, you can't leave your home due to mobility or transportation issues, how do we, how do we meet you where you are? And I think that, you know, there's always a silver linings to, um, you know, terrible situations. And I think that's one for us is that it helped us see things in a different way. And that I think is going to help us moving forward, address hunger in a much different way than we have been before this. Speaker 1 00:18:03 Yeah, definitely. Um, we have all been very flexible, um, during these times. So I wanted to sort of shift to, you know, how can we alleviate some of these issues that we're facing, um, both on the state and federal level, although it is incredible that our food banks really haven't skipped a beat, um, during the pandemic, I think it's very clear that we should support these frontline organizations so that they can continue this work and adapt, uh, for the future kind of like Julie had mentioned. Um, the good thing is that we are approaching quite a few different opportunities to address the needs of our food banks, but also the Ohioans we serve. So could you to go into some detail about some of these opportunities that we're seeing both at the state and federal level? Speaker 3 00:18:57 Well, I, you know, I want to say that the federal response has been, um, has been well timed and we still have a lot of opportunities, certainly at the state level with, um, the American rescue plan act dollars. Um, Ohio is still sitting on about $650 million from the first appropriation. And we're do, um, even more, um, over 5 billion that will be coming down, uh, later this spring. And those dollars were made available to states to ensure that the challenges that their citizens face, um, in achieving a full recovery, that they're able to be aided by these support dollars directly in the area of health and economic recovery from the pandemic. And, uh, we are certainly urging the governor and members of the Ohio general assembly, um, to take these dollars and invest them into help, helping us to maintain and build out their resilient, basic needs. Speaker 3 00:20:15 Infrastructure that's been provided in is provided every day through the food banks and the emergency food assistance network. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make investments with the American rescue act plan dollars to ensure that we are well equipped and prepared to ensure that we have, uh, food in the warehouse that we're able to compete in the market to get that healthy, wholesome food that we can, uh, accommodate more demand that's being placed on food banks to, um, do more in the way of prepared meals. So it's gonna mean that we're going to need to build out, um, new facilities or renovate existing facilities in commercial kitchens. We need to make sure that we have state-of-the-art equipment in our warehouses to be able to acquire the cure and safely store. We need to improve the transportation. I'll give you one example there, food banks run semi-tractor trailers, a semi-tractor trailer drivers, or an in demand occupation right now. Speaker 3 00:21:27 So being able to beat in the commercial market for drivers that have CDLs is really challenging. One of the things that we need to do is replace our fleet of semis two box trucks that don't require a CT. You know, that's extremely expensive to be able to convert over to those trucks. So it's the purchasing of that. We need to establish new community hubs, uh, to make sure that we're in the communities that have lost their local food pantry that may not be returning because the congregation, uh, that once supported them, they have closed their doors. We need to procure more personal care, personal hygiene and household cleaning items. And we need to redouble our efforts at outreach, both in the snap outreach world, but also in healthcare. We know that COVID has taught us that there is a direct link between, uh, hunger and health, and we need to have robust outreach. Speaker 3 00:22:27 We also need to continue to do more on our workforce development, whether it be re-entry or ch or helping to provide no cost training for in demand jobs through our network. So there is a lot that can be done. Uh, we have a modest and a humble request that we're making of the general assembly, but also we need the United States department of agriculture to increase funding for the emergency food assistance program, our commodities program, to make sure that food banks have the federal commodities that are so desperately needed, that are part of the supply chain. Again, we're going to need more money to be able to purchase more food, to replace the donations that we've had in the system. And we also need the, the us Senate to pass the bill back better, uh, legislation that was passed by the house to reinstate those advanced child tax credits as well. So there's a lot that can be done at every level of government, but it does, it will take a government response to help us solve the long-term issues and the challenges that we face of poverty Speaker 2 00:23:42 And the farm bill is, is, is critical to the work that we do seen a 46% drop in federal food commodities, um, since July, which is hitting us hard at a time when, you know, we ha we were being forced to purchase more food, seeing less retail donations. Um, so that is a huge challenge for us. Um, and even in areas where you used to see, uh, the federal government purchasing additional products through, um, what they term as bonus product that's dropped off dramatically as well. Um, so those items when there was just an overabundance, the market was flooded, they would purchase those items. Well, that's not existing right now. Um, and so that was, you know, as his term bonus, but, but also a critical source of food and a lot of things like, um, protein, um, for its vegetables center of the plate items are missing. Speaker 2 00:24:30 The other area that, that we are very concerned about. Um, and I spoke with a local school superintendent last week is the Ohio department of the department of education's waiver on the school lunch school, breakfast, lunch program. And seeing that, you know, when that waiver ends at the end of June, that's forcing summer food service programs sites to not be able to provide meals to children that they can take home, they have to eat those meals at the site. Um, and so what we'll see is a dramatic drop in the number of, of children who are accessing food through summer food service programs, but then come fall. Um, a lot of children are not going to be on the, the lunch program. Um, you know, parents are going to be confused. They're not going to know how to sign their child back up again. Um, and, and, you know, may miss the application may not get the kids signed up. Speaker 2 00:25:20 And so that's going to become a huge burden on parents and additional burden in addition to, you know, the loss of the child tax credit and, you know, the snap eligibility on the additional benefits that are gonna, they're going to go away soon, um, you know, come the fall as they're trying to, you know, buy clothing and shoes and all of the things that kids need to get back to school, then they're going to be hit with, you know, hundreds of dollars in school, lunch fees, um, that I think is gonna really, it's gonna come at probably one of the worst times, because you know, this supply chain is she goes not going to resolve quickly. And the challenges that we're seeing are not going to resolve quickie, you know, gas prices aren't coming down. And so, you know, going into, into the school year in a situation like that is going to create a lot of, a lot of burdens, you know, on those parents and those children. Speaker 3 00:26:07 Yeah. I just want to add to what Julie said that, you know, it just seems like a myriad of challenges that are on the horizon for us, as she talked about the public health emergency unwind, the impact is just so far reaching, whether it's a school-based nutrition programs or summer meals program, uh, that w major boost to the snap benefits, um, with everyone receiving the maximum benefit, and then the change from, um, the thrifty food plan index. So there are all of these things that have really helped provide that safety net are going to start to unwind in on top of that same time, there are going to be over 3 million Ohioans who are going to have to be redetermined both for their Medicaid and over 1.5 million for their snap benefits and in a very short period of time, so that the challenges of fate of folks that are going to be facing this benefit cliff, and just the operational issues of putting people through a, a redetermination processes is going to be confusing. Speaker 3 00:27:29 It's going to be challenging, but the bottom line is if eligible people don't receive the benefits that they need in order to keep food on the table or by their life sustaining medication or children don't have school meals that they need to be able to concentrate that the term impacts of what it will cost us as a society are going to be huge. Uh, they're going to affect not only our food security, but our economic security as well. So we need to make sure that all of our citizens are able to recover from the pandemic. I keep saying that, you know, it had taken, uh, low-income people 10 years to claw back from the great recession, um, and that incomes had just started to level off. So we should expect that we are going to be years into this recovery and recovery doesn't come without investment statements. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:28:33 Yeah. When we, um, first plan for this episode in January, I was, um, hoping that we would provide more good news to be honest, but, um, you know, we're in that state of the pandemic where, um, a lot of things are happening at once and, um, flexibilities are set to end, um, and we are really just feeling the squeeze. So I think this is a valuable conversation on the last, um, however, I think we could still be just a little bit hopeful. Um, and I was wondering for our last question, if you could tell the listeners what you hope to see or anticipate happening over the course of the year for food banks and our clients, we hope to sort of reflect back on your answers maybe next year in the end of March or April. Um, so Julie, why don't you start, Speaker 2 00:29:34 You know, what makes me hopeful is some of the work that has happened within our community members? So our, I say community partners, we have seen such a tremendous willingness to work together. Um, we've seen it across all of our counties, um, you know, people coming together in new ways to help people in their community, um, a real interest or real sincere interest in identifying ways to address food insecurity and identify ways to, you know, especially the medical community to, to be coming in and to help helping to think about, you know, how we can work together to make sure that people's food needs, food needs are met and enthusiasm around the work. Um, we've been doing a lot of meetings around, um, I mentioned our community hub project or working within the city of Sandusky, um, to try to think about how we address people's needs differently. Speaker 2 00:30:28 So working with the food pantry so that when somebody comes in for services that we can identify are there other needs and how do we connect them with existing resources in the community? So not duplicating resources, but making connections for people and trying to think through how do you walk along with someone and help them reach, you know, our intended goal, which is long-term food security and stability within their family. And so there is so much interest in so much enthusiasm and in synergy around that work, that it's, it's exciting to see. And I don't know that we would have seen that three years ago. Um, there is real recognition that there are deep seated needs within communities and community leaders need to come together and figure out how to address those and figure out what community members need. So not assuming that we know what the needs are, but really thinking through, you know, where someone's circumstance is and creating resources that are done with input from community members, which I think is sometimes that that's lacking in certain, in certain, certain circumstances. But I mean, that's, that's where I think the hope comes in is that, um, we're able to work together in, and sort of set those egos aside, um, in a way that I never saw before the pandemic. Speaker 3 00:31:46 I want to echo what Julie said. I mean, I think that there is certainly a renewed awareness about how quickly someone can face hunger and food insecurity, um, and a recognition, um, that they're go by the grace of God go, I, it can happen to any of us, um, for individuals who have the resources I know with the, uh, inflationary costs and the challenges that, that people are acutely aware of the rapidly rising costs of food and other basic needs that we all need to engender an active, healthy life. And I think that for those who may have taken for granted, that we would always have access to an abundance of food. Now have a new recognition of just how, how thin that line is, and, uh, want to be a part of the solution. Um, people come together in our darkest hour. Uh, I see folks coming together as Julie said, and wanting to be a part of the solution. So that really is about community resiliency. And we need to make sure that the leadership that our community members and our partners, um, are showing, uh, are also supported through the resources that we have. Now's the time to invest. Uh, we need the political will to make sure that that happens, that no Ohio goes hungry. Speaker 1 00:33:19 Right? I think this is a good time to do a donations pitch. So if you would like to donate to your local food bank, you can visit our [email protected]. Thank you both for being here today and speaking on the state of Ohio sweeping Speaker 1 00:33:43 I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Lisa and Julie. I think we really captured sort of what we're facing right now as food banks to make sure that our communities are well fed and their needs are being addressed. As always, I wanted to leave you all with a quote. This is coming from Lisa, as well as one of our other food bank directors, Dan flour. And they say in the Akron beacon journal quote, we have been a nation that has accepted higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, and an income inequality. As the norm for decades, this is no longer acceptable, and we can not continue in this direction and quote, if you'd like to donate, volunteer, or if you need help, you can go to the link in our show notes. Thanks. And we'll talk to you soon. Speaker 4 00:34:58 Um,

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