Dutchess Outreach in the city of Poughkeepsie will get about 250 visitors to its food pantry a month before the pandemic.
Nowadays, it can see that amount of traffic within two days.
On the days the agency distributes food in front of City Hall, people line up as early as 6:30 a.m. just for a bag of food.
“The environment we live in now, people would feel that it’s risky to run out of food or it’s so imperative for them to get food that they would wait so long and so early in the dark,” said Rene C. Michaud, executive director of Dutchess Outreach.
The need for food has grown so much in the region over the past few years that the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley is raising funds to expand the size of its facility. The $22.5 million facility, with additional freezer and refrigeration space, will be built in Montgomery Village, nearly twice the size of the Cornwall-on-Hudson facility.
The food bank covers Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Rockland, Sullivan and Putnam counties and provides food to 285 partner agencies such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, schools and nursing homes. It has given away roughly 20 million pounds of food so far this year, feeding about 150,000 people, a number they don’t expect to decrease over the next five years, according to Sarah Gunn, director of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley.
The number of partner agencies fluctuated, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some of the agencies could not keep their doors open when they could not meet demand. The number in Dutchess County has increased by four since 2019.
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To meet the growing demand, the Food Bank’s headquarters in Latham will send a tractor trailer full of food to the facility several times a week to accommodate limited storage.
The hope is to have the new 40,000-square-foot building up and running next summer.
“By building the new facility, we will be able to deliver more food locally.” We will develop relationships with farmers, food producers, etc. and eventually we will be able to double that amount,” Gunn said.
What is the problem with the “last mile” in food security
Food insecurity is when a family or individual worries that the food may run out before they have money to buy more, the food they have is not enough, or they simply cannot afford to eat a balanced diet. There are 4,590 food insecure children and 11,226 food insecure senior citizens in Dutchess County, according to Dutchess Outreach.
Miccio is talking with state and county officials about creating a countywide food security council that would include the grocery store sector and food providers like Dutchess Outreach to help mitigate the food insecurity problem. In January, for the first time, the nonprofit organization will invite about 65 food providers in the county to come together and discuss how they can support each other.
Miccio believes that expecting food providers to remain dependent on charitable contributions and food incentives is not sustainable and will not solve the problem of food insecurity.
“The problem is not not having enough food. We produce enough food to feed everyone. The problem is the last mile problem. The problem is the power and dynamics of poverty that prevent people from accessing the food that we have,” she said.
The “last mile” problem is when food is thrown away before it even reaches the consumer, and it’s part of the reason food deserts exist – places where there is no affordable access to food. The term derives from the transportation aspect of supply chain management, the latter section often being the most problematic.
Some communities have tried to solve the “last mile problem” by creating a system they found worked during the pandemic to deliver food to those families and people who may work shifts that don’t favor shopping hours or they don’t have transportation.
“We’re working together to solve the last mile problems and those systemic problems that keep food from people and people from food,” Micho said.
Saba Ali: [email protected]: 845-451-4518