The images of cars lined up for miles in Dallas went viral. Saturday was the largest distribution in the North Texas Food Bank’s 38-year history. It was evidence of the hardship North Texas families are facing.
However, the NTFB says meeting a need this great isn't sustainable unless the federal government steps in. If not, they say North Texas will face a potential decrease in supply by tens of millions of pounds.
“The amount of food that we need to meet the need in the communities is nothing like anything our food bank has ever seen before,” said Valerie Hawthorne, Government Relations Director for the North Texas Food Bank.
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The NTFB served roughly 6,200 households Saturday, which Hawthorne said translated to about 25,000 people. But she says the months ahead don’t look promising at all, and there’s simply not a nice way to say it.
“In 2021 two very important programs from the USDA are ending,” she said. “We’re looking to lose about 17 million pounds worth of food. And that just translates to more hungry people.”
A line item of funds under the USDA Emergency Food Assistance program is expected to end. It’s called the Food Purchase Distribution Plan, or FPDP. The program allows the federal government to purchase some $1.4 billion in food from farmers caught up in the middle of trade conflict and unable to export goods. The program is also known as the Trade Mitigation Food Purchase and Distribution Program.
Hawthorne said the magnitude of the potential loss is hard for most people to comprehend.
“It’s really hard to conceptualize 17 million pounds,” she said. “A good way to do that is [to think about] our distribution at Fair Park on Saturday, it would be 30 of those.”
And then there’s another problem. A problem that’s been ongoing for months already. She said a COVID-related supply chain crisis caused the USDA to cancel 221 truckloads that were supposed to arrive in North Texas this year.
“Of the food we’re supposed to get for this year, they are not delivering on their promises,” Hawthorne said of the USDA.
Hawthorne said the Food Bank had planned for the end of the Mitigation Food Purchase Program, but the canceled trucks creates supply fluctuations they were not prepared for. It’s more than what a petition to the public can fix.
“Nationally, food banks are seeing about a 60% increase from what they saw last year,” she said. “That is nothing that a food drive can unfortunately replace. We are talking tens of millions of pounds of food that we’re not going to be able to get out into the community.”
The USDA says, as of 2019, roughly 10.5% of all U.S. households experienced food insecurity. Between 2017-2019, Texas was above the U.S. average. Hawthorne says the USDA and Secretary of Agriculture should act sooner rather than later.
"We do not want to be facing a perfect storm here of increased need that is not going anywhere, coupled with resources that are depleting because we can't get the USDA to fulfill those orders," said Hawthorne.