The decision has (finally) been made once and for all: the USDA will not continue to fund the Farm to Families Food Box program after May 2021. As an organization that's participated on some level from Round 1 all the way through this final round, I can talk extensively about the shortcomings of the program and its administration but I won't. You can search up that information if you want it. Here are a couple examples of well written articles:
While immediate concerns over health safety seem to be lessening as more and more people receive the vaccine, the economic impacts of COVID-19 are nowhere near over. Estimates put the current National poverty rate at as much as 20% (nearly double the last rate reported on data.census.gov 10.5% for 2019). Black families are estimated to be closer to 24%. Think about that. Nearly one in every 4 Black Americans are currently experiencing poverty. And, even with its flaws, the USDA's box program filled a gap in available food resources when jobs were lost and food supply chains disrupted. So, now what?
The USDA plans to shift the funds previously spent on the box program into already well-established nutrition programs like SNAP and School Nutrition. Thankfully, the USDA has decided to extend the free lunch program through Summer 2022 which will help lower child food insecurity for families whose kids attend public school. This, alone, is not nearly enough, though, as a disproportionate number of predominantly Black and Brown school districts already qualified for 100% free lunch long before COVID rocked the world. So, while these communities are experiencing a greater increase in poverty and illness, they are receiving less additional support. Pandemic-EBT, which temporarily gave everyone the maximum benefit for their household size, did nothing for the many families (again, mostly Black and Brown) who already qualified for the maximum benefit. As we wait to see what else the USDA plans to do in response to COVID and if they will address the worsening circumstances for Black, Indigenous, and other families of Color, and rural families, Community Hunger Solutions prepares for a much greater demand at food pantries in the coming months.
While our own food distribution will be ending, we're working closely with local partners to ensure the needs in the community are being met. Local harvests will begin in abundance soon and Organic Valley has increased the volume of dairy they're donating, so we feel well prepared to return focus to our main function: providing local food options to our partner organizations. In addition, CHS is helping manage the Growing Together Community Garden in Viroqua which will help connect community members with a green space for educational purposes. The harvested food will supplement CHS' distribution to Vernon County low-income housing facilities. We're also committed to launching our Food Equity Assessment by Fall of 2021 (more on that in an upcoming article) so that we can position ourselves to best help ALL members of our community through this and future emergencies. Please donate to help fund that initiative here.
If you're interested in learning more about how hunger affects varying members of our communities, check out our partners Bread for the World:
And, as always, thank you for supporting Community Hunger Solutions' mission to connect locally produced foods with community members who lack access!
-Jeanette Burlingame, Program Manager