By Melanie Ruberti
LaGRANGE — As more families struggle to keep food on their table, area food banks are also growing more concerned about keeping canned goods and produce items stocked on their shelves.
“There is a heightened worry among those of us who work in the field,” explained Denná Muncy, warehouse coordinator of the Feeding The Valley LaGrange site. “We are concerned that low-income people may go hungry … with a growing number of households, particularly those with children, who report that they do not know where their next meal is coming from.”
Muncy said part of the problem is the federal government has greatly diminished the amount of food items it gives food banks, like Feeding the Valley, around the country.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2001, the government donated 319 million extra commodities of surplus foods to food banks around the country. In 2014, that number had dwindled to just 67 million surplus food items.
“Food banks receive about one-fifth of our inventory from the federal government,” Muncy explained. “That, combined with overseas trade and farm prices the government hasn’t had to buy as many foods in excess. Making matters worse, food manufacturers have grown more efficient, with fewer extra and substandard, but still edible items to donate. Many of those once donated items, are ending up on their discount shelves.”
Recalled food items have also made it tough for food banks, Muncy said.
Both Muncy and Frank Sheppard, executive director of Feeding the Valley, said there are still places like Kroger, Winn-Dixie and Walmart that continue to partner with the food bank in making annual canned good and produce donations. But they said during the summer months, corporate and personal food donations slow down, which for them is common, causing their once full shelves to look a little bare.
“Popular products, such as milk and juice, we sometimes have to limit the amount an agency can purchase,” Sheppard explained.
“We’ve never turned anyone (partner agency) away,” said Muncy. “But we have become creative with how we fill their food boxes. If we’re out of an item, we’ll find a substitute, so they can still make a healthy, nutritious food box.”
The LaGrange warehouse serves at least 43 community agencies, shelters and programs within Troup County.
According to Sheppard, more than 15,000 people in Troup County are living below the poverty line – almost 5,000 of those are children. Since the LaGrange warehouse also helps folks who are food insecure in Meriwether, Harris and Talbot counties as well, the number of people they serve could be much higher.
Which makes the need for food donations more critical than ever.
“If people make personal donations … whether monetary or food … we certainly appreciate the public’s help in that way,” said Sheppard. “We also appreciate the volunteer hours – just helping us pack boxes of food to go into the community.”
“Every dollar counts toward making our community more peaceful and healthy – one woman, man or child at a time,” said Muncy. “Our commitment at Feeding the Valley is to help create a stronger community, one in which we all live and work. In looking ahead, we hope that companies and donors alike will help us address the underlining needs in our community. We want to be able to assist our partner agencies in providing the needed foods to help better assist those they serve in their time of need.”
Anyone interested in more information or becoming a partner agency, or would like to make a donation can contact Denná Muncy at Feeding the Valley in LaGrange at 706-298-7388, or contact Frank Sheppard at FTV in Columbus at 706-561-4755. Information also is available online at www.feedingthevalley.org.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.