Every month, food pantries, meal programs, and other partners of the Montana Food Bank Network distribute over 1 million pounds of food to those who are struggling in our communities. The impact of these programs is immediate and enormous, helping to keep food on the table for Montana families, seniors, underemployed workers, individuals with disabilities, and anyone else in need of a helping hand. While much of this food comes from the generous support of donors, a substantial portion also comes through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
With so much food moving through our doors and out to families in need, it can be easy to forget that decisions made thousands of miles away can impact the work we do and the amount of food we’re able to distribute. However, these decisions are being made right now as Congress works towards passage of the Farm Bill, which includes funding for TEFAP.
TEFAP is a program of the USDA that for decades, has helped local food pantries and meal programs stock their shelves with nutritious food produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers. TEFAP makes up approximately 14 percent of the food distributed by the Montana Food Bank Network but for some of our local partners, up to half of the food on their shelves comes from TEFAP. Last year, Montana received more than 1.3 million pounds of TEFAP product, including high-quality proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables – items that are healthy, in high demand, and not always available through donations.
Linda Sentz, with the Teton County Food Pantry shared with us, “Our rural food pantry depends heavily on TEFAP product to meet the need for food assistance in our community. We are concerned, because we have been seeing a deficit in our budget, and the majority of our budget is for the purchase of food. We purchase one-third of our food, we receive another third from local donations, and we completely depend on TEFAP for the final third. TEFAP has provided some of our most nutritious foods including hamburger, chickens, dried beans, canned fruits and vegetables, tomatoes, frozen blueberries, dried cherries, walnuts, crackers, and dried pasta. Our food pantry has been active because of a totally volunteer effort since 1986. Almost every penny we spend is on food. A loss of TEFAP product would definitely negatively impact the kind of food and the amount of food we can offer to our clients.”
TEFAP is a prime example of how the public and private sector can work together to end hunger. TEFAP provides funding that allows the USDA to purchase excess foods from American producers and distribute it through the emergency food system. Across the country, almost one in five meals provided through local food pantries and other hunger-relief agencies in 2017 was moved, stored, and distributed because of TEFAP.
The Montana Food Bank Network and our partners across the state work hard to care for our neighbors and help those in need. We believe that everyone deserves access to adequate, nutritious food. But we cannot do it alone. The fight against hunger in Montana depends on a strong public-private partnership, and continued support for public nutrition programs in the Farm Bill. Please join us in urging Montana’s congressional leaders to support strong funding for TEFAP in the final Farm Bill.
Gayle Carlson is CEO of the Montana Food Bank Network.
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