SF Food Bank short on turkeys, but bigger issues lie ahead for food security in The City

The San Francisco and Marin Food Banks are still about 1,700 turkeys short for Thanksgiving, but that isn’t the nonprofit’s main concern going into the holidays.

Aside from the drying up Nov. 1 of stimulus funds that expanded the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, the concern is Congress debating whether to cut up to $40 billion in assistance over the next decade.

The stimulus cut earlier this month means about $35 less in monthly food stamps for a family of four and $10 to $11 less for a single adult, according to Trent Rhorer, executive director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency, which manages CalFresh, the state’s version of SNAP. On its website, the California Department of Social Services directs those needing food to, “Contact your regional food bank and ask for the nearest food distribution site.”

The San Francisco and Marin Food Banks Executive Director Paul Ash said he anticipates recipients will find ways to absorb the cuts early this month by stretching their dollars, but likened the proposed cuts that are part of the federal Farm Bill to the equivalent of the amount a food bank provides. In The City, that’s 46 million pounds of food per year, and Ash said doubling the amount of donations “doesn’t seem possible.”

“The idea of increasing our distribution so the government can do less, it gives me a very bad feeling in my stomach,” Ash said. “That’s not what I set out to do, is replace food that was previously distributed by the government. Backfilling government programs is not something charities like to do.”

While people who sign a form with the food banks stating they have a need can pick up food from the network of 240 pantries once a week, many low-income residents find the SNAP benefits distributed monthly to be more reliable.

Ingleside resident Thadd Evans, 63, who lost his job in March, described his pickings from a local pantry as “erratic” because the items vary with each visit. He carefully budgeted how he used the $200 in food stamps every month, now down to $189.

“I’m scared to death about more cuts,” he said. “I would have to end up eating a lot more potatoes and eat less healthy and worry a lot because what else can I do? Stand on the street corner with a cup in hand and ask for spare change, maybe.”

The timeline for Congress to act on further cuts to the food stamps program is hard to know, Rhorer said, since going to conference committee is a long process for the House and Senate.

“It doesn’t look like the $40 billion has a chance at all moving through and getting approval, so that’s good news,” he predicted.

While the organization’s focus shifted this month to trying to digest the cuts and those proposed, Ash said the nonprofit is still trying to raise the food needed for holiday distribution.

This Thanksgiving, the food banks plan to distribute more than a million pounds of food to pantries serving more than 32,000 households.

On top of that, the nonprofit looks to provide more than 170 meal programs with turkeys, vegetables and other Thanksgiving items. Thanks to planning ahead, the food banks have enough of most items, though some canned goods aren’t name brand this year.

Since announcing two weeks ago that the food banks are 1,800 turkeys short of the 2,500 they want to provide to social service agencies, though, only 100 have been donated, said spokeswoman Blain Johnson. People typically think of donating closer to Thanksgiving and that remains the hope.

“I think the need just exceeded the demand and we’re committed to providing turkeys for everyone who needs them,” Johnson said. “But that may mean that we need to dip into other funding, so it’s not the best situation.”

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