For the recent East Coast hurricane, as in other emergencies, food banks were on the front lines with food, bottled water and cleaning supplies. They have long held sway in the public consciousness as providers of nonperishables.
But in fact, holding food drives and handing out cans of soup and tuna make up only a small part of what food banks do over the course of a year. Count the timely provision of fresh produce and nutrition education as among their newer core duties.
For millions of people, food banks have become more than a stopgap measure; rather, they are a chronic coping strategy, said Maura Daly, chief communication and development officer at Feeding America, the umbrella organization for the nation’s 200-plus food banks. “The majority of our clients are receiving food assistance for six months or longer,” she said.
Food banks provide assistance to more than 37 million Americans a year through more than 61,000 outlets, including food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters, Feeding America said. The number of people served by food banks rose 46 percent from 2006 to 2010, mainly because of the recession, which Ms. Daly said increased demand among the unemployed and also among the working poor and the underemployed.
The storm’s impact has strained the organization as it balances emergency relief with its role of serving clients’ long-term needs, Ms. Daly said. An added challenge is the storm’s timing: just before the holiday season, which is the busiest period of the year for food banks.
But when such emergencies are not absorbing their attention, food banks have increasingly moved beyond providing short-term supplies of food and water to confronting chronic hunger and poor nutrition, and the reality that the poor can suffer from hunger and obesity.