A mismatch between needs and available food – New Hampshire Bulletin

Jon Ericezzo struggles to get the food he needs through national supply chains to provide nutritious meals to the elderly and those confined to their homes, and as Chair of Hillsborough Meals on Wheels, that’s is a problem. But locally, in pantries and farms, he sees an oversupply.

Food pantries, meanwhile, have refused deliveries because they don’t have storage space and food isn’t coming out of their shelves quickly enough, say state workers who administer a program emergency food.

But that excess does not mean the state has solved its problems of hunger and food insecurity, advocates say. They point to the nearly 80,000 people who said they had not eaten enough in the past seven days in Census Pulse data from early February, numbers that have swelled by 30,000 since last September. It comes at a time when one in four people struggle to pay basic household expenses.

“It’s not that people don’t need it,” said Laura Milliken, executive director of New Hampshire Hunger Solutions.

Advocates like Milliken worry that federal aid programs aren’t being used as much as they should, meaning people who need help aren’t getting it. Participation in these programs is low, Milliken said. She pointed to SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is at a 10-year low in uptake and has continued to decline during the pandemic with no clear explanation. “Honestly, we’re not 100% sure why that is,” she said, though she noted the state hasn’t made helping people access the program a priority since. years.

New Hampshire trails other states, ranking 39and in the country regarding participation in SNAP and 47and in the nation for participation in the school breakfast.

The consequences of low turnout are clear. “Abundant data shows that children who eat breakfast at school have improved nutrition, better academic performance, fewer behavioral problems and fewer visits to the nurse, better attendance, higher pass rates and long-term studies that show kids who ate breakfast in school do better in life,” Milliken said. Kids who eat breakfast even earn more than those who don’t, a- she declared.

And low participation in SNAP means federal dollars are being diverted and could be funneled into the local economy — as an estimate $37.9 million in federal funds that could have happened in the state in 2019, if the 17,000 eligible but unenrolled children had used the program. In addition to these children, the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that there were thousands of other eligible adults not using the program. Moody’s economic analysis has shown that every dollar spent on the program generates more than $1.50 in economic activity.

A bill before the Legislature would create a statewide outreach plan, a measure advocates hope will boost participation. Neighboring states with outreach plans in place are seeing higher uptake in their programs — meanwhile, New Hampshire hasn’t had an outreach plan in five years. Senate Bill 404 would change that, by having the Department of Health and Human Services create a plan, which would provide guidance on eligibility and help access the program. If the program receives federal approval, half of the funding would come from the federal government. Milliken said private organizations, like nonprofit partners, could raise the remaining 50% to match the federal money.

Ericezzo said Hillsborough Meals on Wheels has already trained some staff members on SNAP registration, so when they do intake, they can help people who qualify register. The legislation, he said, recognizes that hunger is a statewide problem.

As for the food shortage, Ericezzo attributes his problem to the strangeness of the supply chain that he started noticing last July. Hillsborough Meals on Wheels prepares between 7,500 and 8,000 meals a week – a huge operation that requires a lot of logistics. He would get a note from the kitchen that put the meals together saying, for example, that 200 bushels of broccoli were missing, so they would have to make corn instead. Substitution doesn’t appear to be a big deal, Ericezzo said, but the program is necessary to meet federal dietary guidelines for seniors. If they don’t, they don’t get paid and can’t provide meals to those who need them.

There were other issues too – like the shortage of plastic bags which prevented the distribution of items like bread and biscuits. The distribution of milk was another problem; it was going badly, and Ericezzo learned that it was due to a shortage of truck drivers which meant drivers had longer routes.

For Ericezzo, these issues down the supply chain mean he runs the risk of not being able to deliver meals to those who depend on them. The program surveys attendees, asking if people receive visitors in addition to Meals on Wheels food delivery. Before the pandemic, about 20% of people said they were not; during the pandemic, that percentage jumped to 60%, where it stayed for two years.

These wellness checks – the only visit many people in the program receive – are also in play. Without the meal, there is no funding for registration.

Ericezzo said building his own commercial kitchen would provide more flexibility and allow him to use the surplus food he saw in the state. “We see the problems and rather than see them creep up on us and happen, we have to be prepared and have a plan B because the answer can’t be that we don’t deliver,” he said. . “It’s not just the food we provide to the elderly, it’s the wellness checks. It’s about making sure people are okay.

It could also allow him to use other federal programs, like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). This program secures food trucks for the state, but Katie Daley, a federal surplus manager who administers the program for the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services, said food pantries were refusing food deliveries for lack of funds. space and demand.

“Pantries and soup kitchens across the state frequently refuse our deliveries because they don’t have enough capacity. They’re not getting as many families as they were before the pandemic,” Daley said.

She was particularly shocked when pantries started refusing peanut butter, a high-protein, long-lasting food.

Sue Houck, president and chief operating officer of the Loudon Food Pantry, said she had plenty of TEFAP food. “We are lucky,” she said. “I found room for this, but I know there are plenty of other, much smaller pantries out there that would struggle to fit it.”

Some federal dollars allocated to the TEFAP program have not been spent. Of the $1.4 million available for one type of order, approximately $815,500 has been spent. Daley said it’s because she orders by truck and considers many variables to avoid food waste.

“The idea that we don’t necessarily use our funds is not accurate,” she said. “We bring in a huge amount of food, providing over half a million pounds a month.”

Daley said supply exceeds New Hampshire’s demand for TEFAP foods, a situation the department says is due to the abundance of resources on offer during the pandemic, such as stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, P-EBTand mobile pantries run by the New Hampshire Food Bank.

For Ericezzo, it’s about cutting red tape and navigating bureaucracy to get food into the hands of those who need it. “We have to get food where it needs to be,” he said.

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