The following is excerpted from a story that appeared in The News Virginain on 12-6-06.
"Food Pantries Struggle" by Alicia Petska
A drought in federal food supplies has hit local food pantries hard, leaving them with a dwindling inventory at a time when their clients most need their help.
"It's a really bad time, out of all times, for this to hit right at winter," said Hunter Fauber, director of one of the Shenandoah Valley's largest pantries. "This has really been a blow. In all my years doing this, it's never gotten [as low] as it has now."
At the root of the problem is a shortage of what are called "bonus commodities" from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, extra food rations doled out to organizations like schools and food banks on top of the shipments they're "entitled" to. [Most notable missing are] standard fruits and vegetables, the nutritious food that pantries often find most difficult to buy on their own. For example, this week at the Verona Community Food Pantry, pantry-purchased items lining the shelves are soda, snack cakes, and a variety of pie fillings, each of which comes in a large, unlabeled, dented can.
"That's a struggle we have all the time, trying to get nutritional food," said the president of the pantry's Board of Directors, Ralph Steger, noting they only have a couple thousand dollars to buy food in any given month.
In recent months, the USDA has been sending out little or no bonus foods, a shortage the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank said extended nationwide.
"USDA food commodities across the country are low, and every food bank is frustrated," said Teresa Yates, the Blue Ridge director of food security. "It's putting us down hundreds of thousands of pounds [of food].
For the Verona pantry - a pantry that was started in Fauber's garage 17 years ago and has since grown to be one of the biggest in the Blue Ridge area - the shortage has meant receiving only about 3,200 pounds of bonus foods in the last three months. Normally, officials said, one good month would be closer to the 60,000-pound range.
"There's not as much," said one discouraged client, Keri Jones, a Craigsville woman who was there with her husband and 1-year-old baby.
"I haven't seen any vegetables today at all," she said as she scanned the shelves. "Usually, they have something. It makes it a lot harder now because we'll have to go to the grocery store and pay a lot more money that we don't have, especially right around Christmas time."