The Feed Evansville Task Force scrambled to get two food distribution events together in January after their regular supply of USDA boxes ran out. What happened?
Feed Evansville volunteer Lori Shockley was in charge of milk, carrots and dry cereal in the food distribution line at Hartke Pool on Wednesday. When she’s not handing out food, she’s a stay at home mom.
At about 2:30 p.m., Shockley said, "It's been non-stop since eleven o'clock this morning and there's no end in sight."
It was outdoors, in January, but at least it wasn’t too cold. The temperature was in the forties on Wednesday.
Shockley and the rest of the volunteers were hopping. There weren’t quite enough of them to run two distribution lines, so they worked hard to get people through their single line as quickly as possible.
"My family doesn't have to worry about whether there is food on the table every day," Shockley said, "The fact that there's this many in the community that do, it's important that we all come out and help, donate, volunteer, any way you can help."
There was a lot of pent up demand for food this week. Over a thousand vehicles were each given four loaves of bread, potatoes, carrots, canned goods and milk.
There is no single reason for the huge turnout at the Feed Evansville distribution events, but one thing is clear- pandemic or not- there’s a lot of food insecurity in Evansville.
“Jason Harvey, right now I’m unemployed due to COVID, and I’ve recently got over COVID about two weeks ago.”
“How long have you been out of work?”
“Ever since September is when they let me go, at the casino.”
“Mary Dugas. I live in a fifty five and older community and I come and get for a couple of friends if I can.”
“Are they food insecure?”
“Well, some of ‘em are. And they’re like ninety two years old or in their seventies and stuff and on Social Security.”
There was a man who said he was from VFW Post 1114 who wanted to get food for five fellow veterans. Another man didn’t want to give his name, but said he was helping out a family member.
“I got a nephew that needs it, so I pick it up for him. “
“What’s his situation?”
“Well, he’s just darn near bankrupt and he’s working forty hours a week and can’t make it.”
“Do you think there’s a lot of that?”
The weekly Hartke Pool food distribution has been running like clockwork since June, with food acquired from vendors participating in the Farmers to Families program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was funded through the original CARES Act that Congress passed early last year. As you know if you pay attention to national news, additional stimulus funding hit a snag in Congress at the end of the year.
Feed Evansville organizer Lisa Vaughan told what happened then.
“I haven’t had the USDA boxes, the last day we got them was December twenty first, and we most likely won’t get them until February if we end up qualifying for the program again.”
So the food stopped coming…on the first day of winter...during the pandemic.
Vaughan said they were able to scramble and get enough additional food and funding locally for two distribution events- the one this week and one scheduled for January 27th. As we talked, the frustration was evident, but for the record, she chose her words carefully.
“I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed," Vaughan said, "Being in leadership roles is extremely hard. And, trying to come to compromises and make everything happy can be really difficult at times. And, I’m more about how we’re going to move forward together, then what didn’t happen before.”
We reached out to Eighth District Congressman Larry Buschon’s office for comment on the lag in emergency food supplies. In an email, the congressman wrote:
“It is unacceptable that Feed Evansville had to stop food distribution for Hoosiers in need due to inaction by Congress to pass additional COVID-19 relief legislation.
Myself and other members of Congress were ready to vote for additional relief, yet Speaker Pelosi stood in the way in an effort to drive messaging rather than help Americans. In last week's 60 Minues episode, Lesley Stahl questioned Speaker Pelosi about obstructing the passage of COVID-19 relief legislation to which she did not have a reasonable answer.
However, it is exciting news that the USDA announded Round Five of the Farmers to Families Food Box program on January 4th, and that it will purchase $1.5 billion worth of food to distribute nationwide.
Congress must come together to ensure that there are no more lapses in the program during this pandemic."