Food banks caught in trade war crosshairs

Sep 27, 2019


Food banks around the country were listed as one of few beneficiaries to ongoing trade disputes stemming from the Trump administration this summer. Part of the president’s farm bailout included more than a billion dollars of purchases of commodities to be distributed to the nation’s food banks. And while the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has enjoyed some of that bounty, it's not been without its challenges.



It might seem pretty basic, but where food comes from and where it’s going are some pretty big considerations for a food bank. Different state and federal programs administered through food banks have different rules and different requirements. The huge surplus of commodities being doled out in an attempt to give farmers some sort of market, is being done through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kenai Peninsula Food Bank executive director Greg Meyer says it’s sort of like getting a grant. It has to be used in a specific way.

“It can be kind of misleading when people come in here. The commodities are regulated through USDA programs, so we don’t have access to that food for all of our programs. It’s just very specific ones. So, even though there may be a need for certain things we’re looking for, just because we have it in the warehouse, those things can only be distributed through certain distribution points.”

Basically, that surplus of food from the federal government can only go out through federal programs, like the Child and Family Services Plan or the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Meyer says the bright spot is that the extra supply from the USDA enabled them to expand meal service this summer at the Fireweed Diner.

“As we were trying to expand our evening dinner program, we did have access to that food. We need to supplement that with other things that are fresh, but that is one place that we can use it to increase our output.”

Food banks in the Lower 48 benefitted from some of the fresh commodities like oranges and milk, while far flung places like Alaska are taking in extra shelf stable items, like rice and beans and other canned goods. Meyer says the Kenai Food Bank also received some frozen items like meat and fish, but it’s all meant extra time spent in the warehouse.

“We definitely have more than we’ve ever had in our warehouses so, when it comes to inventorying things and rotating things around, it has added quite a bit of time involved.”


With a good supply of staple items through this one-time federal windfall, Meyer says they’re now on the lookout for other, more seasonal items, especially with the holidays coming up.


“We’re looking for all those things. We put together boxes. We are able to purchase turkeys at a reduced rate through the Food Bank of Alaska so if people feel like they would like to donate cash to help pay for those, but what we’re looking for now is all the things that go with the Thanksgiving meal so when we put those boxes together, they’re complete. That’s stuffing, canned sweet potatoes, the kinds of things you would put together for your Thanksgiving, then we’ll supplement that with the fresh bread and things we have here.”