Food Sourcing Update – September 29
Author: Eric Williams
Nearly six months after the federal COVID-19 emergency was lifted, obtaining food continues to be extremely challenging. News stories and conversations with our fellow Feeding America food banks confirm that food sourcing difficulties are nationwide.
That’s why we are so fortunate to be able to access Feeding America’s (FA) Choice System. In simple terms, it works like this:
- Feeding America’s national partners make large quantities of food available to the FA network.
- FA posts those donations on a web-based portal accessible to the 200 member partners, including Second Harvest.
- All 200 food banks are allocated “shares” that are akin to Monopoly money but actually purchase donated food through a competitive bidding process.
“Breakfast cereal has been especially difficult for us to get ahold of recently,” said Ervin Robison, whose job is to help us not only get food in our doors, but also to obtain food that is nutritious. “So right now, cereal is one of the things we’re using our shares to buy.”
The Choice System also helps us meet the goal of providing a variety of food that works for local food pantries. Mike Thomsen, who like Ervin spends his workdays at Second Harvest procuring quality food, said other items we’ve successfully bid on recently range from diced tomatoes to granola bars. Sometimes there’s even pet food on the list.
Mike explained that much of the food available through the Choice System comes from large producers which, for various reasons, have inventory available to donate to the FA network.
For example, canned or packaged food may be inching toward its best-by, sell-by or use-by dates, which are too frequently mistaken for “expired.” Most food is safe to eat well beyond those dates. To determine how long food remains perfectly good to eat, go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodKeeper app at FoodKeeper App | FoodSafety.gov, where there are hundreds of products listed.
While the food available through the Choice System is free, Ervin noted we do need to cover transportation costs, which have increased substantially over the last 18 months. Of course, a major contributor to those cost increases is the price of diesel. Ervin said he and Mike weigh several factors before bidding, ranging from what we need most to transport costs. Thus, oftentimes we bid on food that’s in the western half of the U.S.
On average, we distribute 35-40 million pounds of food per year across our 26-county service area. That food comes from many sources, including farmers, food processing companies, large distributors and grocery stores, as well as food drives and thoughtful folks donating produce from their gardens. Last year Feeding America’s Choice System accounted for approximately 610,000 pounds of the food we distributed, helping us provide a wider variety of nutritious food to people facing hunger.