Food bank official stresses importance of federal nutrition aid in farm bill

Hank Hayes • May 17, 2013 at 11:41 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Congress is once again working on a farm bill, and that’s “a really big deal” for food banks, Feeding America executive Carrie Calvert said during a regional chamber legislative breakfast Friday.

The farm bill is massive federal legislation costing almost $100 billion annually over five years and setting policy for farm subsidies, rural programs and food aid.

“The bill provides funding for federal nutrition programs that really help food banks like Second Harvest (Food Bank in Northeast Tennessee),” Calvert said during the breakfast, held at Second Harvest’s future home in the former Sam’s Club facility off Airport Parkway.

Calvert is Feeding America’s director of Tax and Commodity Policy, while Second Harvest Food Bank is a Feeding America member.

The House Agriculture Committee last Wednesday approved a sweeping farm bill that would trim the food stamp program and cut the domestic food aid program. About $40 billion in previously mandatory funding would be cut, including direct payments to farmers. The full Senate is expected to start work on the bill soon. Current farm bill-related programs expire Sept. 30 at the end of the federal budget year.

Calvert said Feeding America distributes 3.3 billion pounds of food per year, while she noted 70 billion pounds of nutritious food is wasted every year across the nation.

“The job picture is pretty bleak in a lot of communities nationwide,” she observed. “... Families are turning to our food banks to backfill. ... The food we’re able to get locally and nationally just can’t keep up. We’re trying to be as creative as we can, looking at local and national food banks to get more food into our network. ... We really need strong funding for federal commodities in the farm bill.”

Each major food bank in Tennessee, including Second Harvest, received a $50,000 allocation from state government, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey pointed out at the breakfast.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, received a “Golden Plate” award from Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin at the end of the breakfast.

“We realize when there are economic downturns how important it is for (the food banks),” Ramsey said of the allocation. “It’s kind of like seed money. We put in a little bit and they get a big bang for their buck. ... The economy is chugging along but not real good. We’re talking about two or three percent growth but that’s better than we were in ’09, ’10 and ’11.”

Second Harvest has raised $700,000 to move from its Gray facility to the old Sam’s Club site, but still needs $600,000 to complete the transition, Chafin said.

“We hope to be in here this fall,” she told the gathering at the breakfast.

Second Harvest secures food donations from national and local manufacturers, grocers, and individuals, and then redistributes that food to 200 food pantries, soup kitchens, children’s programs and other nonprofit charities feeding more than 30,000 hungry people in the region.

For more about the farm bill, go to www.thomas.loc.gov. The bill’s number is H.R. 1947.

For more about Second Harvest, go to www.netfoodbank.org.

For more about Feeding America, go to www.feedingamerica.org.

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