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McKinney: Nation Unites to Fight Hunger

by Steve Grinczel

Published: Friday, October 16, 2020

America may be divided politically, but U.S. Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney doesn't find that to be the case when it comes to hunger.

Last Thursday, McKinney observed the Farmers to Families Food Box Program distribution operations at the Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana in Fort Wayne and South Bend's Food Bank of Northern Indiana.

As of Sept. 29, more than 100 million food boxes from the $4 billion program have been distributed nationally and the Allen County facility expects to have given out 42,000 from June to the end of this month. Need is the only requirement to receive Farmers to Families food box full of products purchased from farmers by the USDA, helping both the hungry and producers.

Families of varying socio-economic status have had to rely on food banks because of income lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, according to McKinney, the former Indiana Department of Agriculture director.

"I don't know of anywhere else where the farm to the consumer comes together, with a lot of people in between, than at places like this," McKinney said at Community Harvest. "Let's just count them. You have the farmers that produce it, processors that package it, the logistics people—often times who are volunteers, and these (food bank workers) who figure out how to get it to their thousands of partners, many of them faith-based institutions, schools for sure, homes in some cases and the elderly.

"I think that's the American way, and that's what just juices me. I've told people today everybody ought to come out to a place like this, once or twice a month, just to get a lift and see how all of agriculture comes together, from farm to the consumer, farm to fork, to benefit those in need."

The third round of food boxes, added after an additional $1 billion was allocated by Congress in August, "are as balanced as you can get," McKinney said. The boxes he looked through included: a gallon of milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, vegetables, fruit, hot dogs, cooked bone-in chicken and a variety of other items.

"The feedback we've been getting is (the latest round) meets needs that haven't been met before," said McKinney, who toured Community Harvest's grocery-store-style facility, its massive warehouse and cold-storage unit. "We wanted to particularly lift up our dairy farmers and in turn consumers that need and want that protein and that dairy. That's who we featured and plussed up."

The need is measurable. Saturday distribution at the food bank has increased from 300-500 in March to 1,300. Dozens of cars start lining up for Farmers to Families food boxes three hours before the 9 a.m. distribution time.

Carmen Cumberland, executive president of Community Harvest, which services nine counties, said the USDA relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief Act has been desperately needed.

"When COVID happened, had we not had this government product, people would not been able to get the food they got because again, at the stores we weren't getting the donations," she said. "People were hoarding stuff, or they were buying more product because they were cooking at home."

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