Hunger bites

Getting food to those in need could soon be easier

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/11/22

REGION — As inflation digs in, more people are struggling in Sullivan County. But a new food distribution warehouse for the Regional Food Bank will help.

The hungry, here

“One out …

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Hunger bites

Getting food to those in need could soon be easier

Posted

REGION — As inflation digs in, more people are struggling in Sullivan County. But a new food distribution warehouse for the Regional Food Bank will help.

The hungry, here

“One out of six people nationally” are food-insecure, said Molly Nicol, CEO of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which supplies food to pantries in this region. But in the six counties of the Hudson Valley, “it’s one out of five.”

Sullivan County is one of the six.

Why the need? Wages are lower. Most people work for small businesses, which “are just trying to keep the lights on,” she said.

To make ends meet, folks work more than one job, she said. Food insecurity rates are higher for families where people work multiple jobs, are only working part-time, or are in jobs where the hours change from week to week.

“The ability to pay a living wage is vitally important,” Nicol said.

The food bank has seen people buying cheaper food, stretching what they have. Market researcher IRi found that 75 percent of consumers had made at least one change in their food-buying habits in the face of inflation, often buying on sale, buying less produce (fruit and vegetable sales were down five percent in February), or switching to store brands.

A person picks up food this past winter at the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless. The federation gets its food from the Regional Food Bank.
A person picks up food this past winter at the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless. The federation gets its food from the Regional Food Bank.

Food storage

For the food bank, the challenges have been related to the supply chain and to the price of gas. Large trucks move the food to distribution points, where the food pantries pick it up.

But it is also dealing with the sheer volume of food that needs to be moved. It has two warehouses, one around Albany and one in Cornwall, NY. The latter was donated and was badly needed, but although it’s 55,000 square feet in size, only 20,000 of those feet are usable by the food bank. “We are really, really grateful for it,” said Nicol. “But we outgrew it.”

Indeed. Before 2020, the food bank shipped 38 million pounds of food a year. Since the start of the pandemic, though, that number has shot up to 55 million annually. The Hudson Valley accounted for 22 million of them.

But “57 percent of that had to be shipped” from the Albany area, Nicol said, adding to the gas costs.

The need will almost certainly continue. “The economic effects from COVID will last around five years. Some jobs went away; there’s the disruption in childcare. Inflation is driving the need higher.”

The warehouse

The food bank just received a $10 million CARES act grant, administered by the state, to build the warehouse near Routes 84 and 87 in the Town of Montgomery.

The project is “going through the planning board process to check traffic and drainage,” Nicol said. The environmental review is done and there are no archeological sites underfoot. The water and sewer line are next.

Food matters

The effects of food insecurity run deep. In children, it can mean increased birth defects, trouble thinking and learning, more aggression or anxiety. In both kids and adults, it means health problems—like anemia, scurvy or rickets—that happen when someone doesn’t get enough nutrients. You can’t fight off disease, so you’re sick all the time.

To fix food insecurity, it’s not just a matter of feeding people, although that’s at the top of the list. The other conditions causing it need to be addressed too.

Sources: feedingamerica.org, sullivancce.org/food-nutrition, ers.usda.gov, winsightgrocerybusiness.com, iriworldwide.com

“We hope to have a shovel in the ground at the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter,” she said. Depending on the supply chain, it could take eight months to build.

“We’ve been working on it for two years now,” Nicol said. “We had to look at 27 different sites.” Existing warehouses were being snapped up. But this worked out well, she said. “It’s the perfect place. We don’t have to go through the historic village… and it’s much more convenient for pantries and for donors.”

A closer warehouse means the food bank can expand its offerings—more fresh food, delivered faster.

Although now more food pantries will be able to collect food directly from the warehouse, food will still be trucked to more-rural communities; the staff is still figuring out the delivery radius. “No bigger than 45 miles,” Nicol said.

It’s good for the pantries, she said. “It’s good for the environment.” And best of all, it’s good for the hungry.

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