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No, as that is not the food bank's purpose. Instead, the food bank's at least 150 partner agencies receive large orders of desired product from the warehouse stock and then prepare meals and/or distribute the food to children and families in need in an efficient and economical manner. This allows the food bank to focus on acquiring and soliciting large donations of food for distribution to the agencies. When a person in need calls the food bank for help, he or she is immediately linked with a local partner agency that provides emergency food to those in need of assistance.

The best way to connect with a local food pantry is to dial 211 (United Way 211 information hotline.)

The food bank is inspected by Feeding America - formally America's Second Harvest - the nation's food bank network, and is a member of the Florida Association of Food Banks. The food bank routinely provides educational and regulatory programs for our member agencies, and partners with other state and local organizations to raise awareness of hunger needs and poverty.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, the national food bank network, through which some food donations flow. National manufacturers along with local wholesalers, retailers, brokers and other food or food-related companies and organizations donate food and related products. These include packaged, canned, bottled, perishable and non-perishable foods and essential food products. Fresh produce is donated by the agricultural industry, and the food bank receives USDA commodities through the state. Finally, much of the shelf-stable foods the food bank distributes come through community food drives.

Stand-out food donors to the food bank include Publix Supermarkets with its successful holiday and spring food drive in which more than 680,000 lbs. are collected. In addition Sweetbay Markets, Target, Winn Dixie, Walmart and Sam's Club donate meat, deli, produce and prepared foods through our successful retail store donation program, which secures and distributes more than 3 million pounds of nutritious food annually. Lastly, the Letter Carriers' Food Drive in May, generates more than 300,000 pounds of food annually.

Food arrives at the food bank in caseloads on tractor-trailers, large refrigerated trucks, and in private cars and SUVs from local food drives. The food is inspected, sorted, labeled, and stored at our warehouse for repacking and distribution in sizes suitable for community food programs. A comprehensive shopping or product list is maintained and made available daily via the food bank's internal website, and each partner agency then creates its own food order. The food bank's staff and volunteers pick, sort and pack each individual order, usually into orders that typically weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 pounds (or more). Representatives of the local partner agencies pick up the orders (usually weekly), while the food bank delivers orders to more distant agencies. Every day, the food bank's 16 trucks are acquiring food throughout Southwest Florida and/or delivering orders to our partner agencies.

In addition to food and grocery products, the food bank provides training in safe food handling, inspection, inventory control, and sanitation. The food bank also furnishes nutrition information through our website and newsletters.

The food bank participates in three major food drives annually: the National Letter Carriers' Food Drive in May, the Publix Holiday Food Drive in the winter and spring, and the Boy Scout Food Drive. In addition, companies, churches, service groups, and individuals hold food donation and funding drives throughout the year to provide food to the food bank. Almost 1/3 of all the food we distribute comes from these "Hunger Heroes". The food bank has guidelines and will gladly work with any company, organization, or individual who wants to conduct a local drive to support food for the hungry.

"Food insecurity" refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times because of a lack of financial resources.

One of the most disturbing and extraordinary aspects of life in this very wealthy country is the persistence of hunger. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that in 2008:

  • Of the 49.1 million people living in food insecure households (up from 36.2 million in 2007), 32.4 million are adults (14.4 percent of all adults) and 16.7 million are children (22.5 percent of all children).
  • 17.3 million people lived in households that were considered to have "very low food security," a USDA term (previously denominated "food insecure with hunger") that means one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This was up from 11.9 million in 2007 and 8.5 million in 2000.
  • Very low food security had been getting worse even before the recession. The number of people in this category in 2008 is more than double the number in 2000.
  • Black (25.7 percent) and Hispanic (26.9 percent) households experienced food insecurity at far higher rates than the national average.

Very simply, hunger is defined as the uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food. When we talk about hunger in America, we refer to the ability of people to obtain sufficient food for their household. Some people may find themselves skipping meals or cutting back on the quality or quantity of food they purchase at the stores. This recurring and involuntary lack of access to food can lead to malnutrition over time.

A food bank, such as the Harry Chapin Food Bank, solicits, collects, stores, and distributes large quantities of food products to food programs, such as food pantries and soup kitchens. There are only 15 food banks in Florida. A food pantry provides three-to-five-day food packages directly to families and individuals who have a place to live but not enough food. These packages are designed to provide nutritionally balanced, simple meals. Food pantries are a key source of emergency food for low-income families, the working poor, and for those whose food stamp benefits are exhausted. Many food pantries provide additional services, such as clothing and referrals to social service agencies. A soup kitchen prepares food provided by the Food Bank into nutritious meals for people who are often homeless. For some people, the soup kitchen meal is their only meal of the day.

In the food bank's service area, the causes of hunger include under-employment, low-paying jobs, the current housing slump, the high costs of childcare, and the increasingly high medication costs faced by seniors. In Southwest Florida, the fastest growing segments of need include: 1) children (40% of those served) 2) the working poor; and 3) seniors with fixed incomes (SSDI).

During the past two years, most of our partner agencies have experienced a significant increase in requests for emergency food assistance, which has more than doubled in some cases. Most of these increases are directly attributable to the housing slump and the corresponding surge in unemployment. In fact, Lee County has been cited in the New York Times and elsewhere as the hardest hit of any U.S. county by the housing/mortgage crisis.

According to a recent article by CNN.com/US (2009, February 23), Lee County, Florida, is one of the hardest-hit areas in the country and presents a microcosm of the national housing dilemma. With home prices down about 50 percent from their peak and unemployment now at 10 percent, the area is littered with "For Sale" and "Auction" signs. In an article by MSNBC.MSN.COM in August of 2008, among 230 metro areas tracked in the United States, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida, registered the highest foreclosure rate. Many families are forced to make tough choices between paying for housing, health care, and food. Because the need has changed and increased dramatically in the past year (emergency food pantries experiencing increase demand as high as 82% in some areas) our organization has had to implement proactive, cost effective and innovative activities to increase our supply of food to these areas in need. We expanded our operations in 2008-2009 through our relocation to a much larger, more efficient facility. The addition of capital equipment (refrigerated vehicles), staff, and new programs such as the VISTA Food Solicitation Program has secured large quantities of fresh produce since December 2008.

The increase in demand has been accompanied by a significant shift in the demographic profile of the clients being served by the emergency food system. The emergency food programs are seeing more and more families who have never previously had to ask for charitable assistance. The impact of the economy on livable wage construction jobs has been devastating. More and more of these families, many of whom were food drive donors in the past, are being forced to ask for aid. In response to this unprecedented shift in demand, the HCFB has taken a leadership role in organizing an annual Food/Hunger Summit.

In the 1980s, Americans were exposed to the issue of hunger. With instant news reporting, the nation witnessed first hand the effects of human starvation in faraway countries like Biafra and Bangladesh. In the United States, the long hidden hunger of Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and in America's inner cities was no longer a secret. The problem of childhood hunger - estimated to affect more than 16 million children - began to attract attention. (According to the USDA, an estimated 16.7 million children lived in food insecure -low food security and very low food security- households in 2008). Part of this new awareness of hunger in the 1980s came through music, stories, and acts of conscience that manifested themselves in events like Live Aid or songs like "We Are the World". Few would dispute that one of the most inspiring individuals at the start of America's growing consciousness about hunger was Harry Chapin. Harry was a popular songwriter and folk/rock performer ("Taxi," "Cats in the Cradle," "Circle") who donated the proceeds from every other concert he gave to end hunger. He also co-founded the organization World Hunger Year. Harry spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill convincing Members of Congress and their staff to enact solutions to the problem of hunger. Tragically, Harry died in a car accident in 1981 at the age of 39. In 1987, Harry was posthumously awarded the Special Congressional Gold Medal for his tireless fight against hunger.

In 1994, when the food bank purchased a former meat processing plant on Alicia Street in Fort Myers, Sandy Chapin, Harry's widow, provided permission to incorporate the name of her late husband into the name of the Southwest Florida Food Bank. Today, Harry's family and original band continue to help the food bank through an annual concert held in Florida.

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