Usually, there are 20-25 pallets of food stored here at Loaves and Fishes in Berryville. Today, the storage space is nearly empty.
Jerry Keehler, a volunteer leader at the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank in Berryville, is growing concerned about empty shelves and smaller inventories of emergency food supplies. "We used to have about 25 pallets of food stored in the back area of the Food Bank," he said, last Friday. "Now, we're down to about 5 pallets and that looks like the way it is going to be in the future."
Keehler says that Loaves and Fishes' smaller stock pile of foods is due to reductions in government funding--down by at least 25% over last year--and "about a 40-60% reduction in donated food from businesses like Wal-Mart.
"What's different at Wal-Mart," Keehler says, "is just better inventory control and improved distribution systems. It has a better sense of how much it will sell, and consequently has less stuff leftover to donate to food banks.
"We're feeling pretty hard pressed here," he said, shaking his head sadly. "The need for food assistance keeps growing, but supplies get tighter and money is extremely short."
Whether or not food banks like Loaves and Fishes will be able to stay open in the future--or should stay open--is a subject of much discussion. Government funding for entitlement programs and the social safety net has been weighed, measured, and found wanting by political conservatives. Meanwhile, some social conservatives worry that food shelves promote dependency, bad habits, and poor character among people. I suspect the discussion will go on for some time.
There isn't much consensus about food policy, even among liberals, as we go forward. Republicans are for continuing subsidies to agri-business and against continuing food stamp benefits for the poor and for food bank subsidies. Democrats, conversely, are for continuing subsidies to agri-business and for continuing food stamp benefits for the poor and for food bank subsidies. Boiled down to bones, Republicans want to subsidize pals only and Democrats want to subsidize pals and everybody else. Voters have tough choices to make.
The original purpose of most food shelves was to provide food on an emergency basis to people on a strictly temporary basis. But as incomes from wages have dropped over the last 3 decades--down 23% since 1973 for workers with High School or less educations--donated food has become a necessary supplement to family security. The dilemma of the working poor is unlikely to change any time soon: as an economic class they have become more numerous and economically poorer, and will "be with us always."
Whether or not Loaves and Fishes--and the other food banks in Carroll County--will be with us always depends on increased support from local folks. The federal government must necessarily cut spending and raise revenues and, no matter which party is in control of Congress and the Presidency after 2012, state and local government will get less and less support from the feds. That means we'll have to find the money here...and now.
As a non-profit corporation, Berryville's Loaves and Fishes Food Bank is a pretty amazing operation. It is run largely by volunteers from local churches--the Methodists, the Disciples of Christ, and the Community of Christ; there is no paid staff, and the land and building occupied by the Food Bank were donated by local, and not wealthy philanthropists. Of course, some people believe that food banks are a source of moral hazard and just encourage dependent people to scam the system. That probably means they also think that the church volunteers who work at the Food Bank are merely dupes, and well-meaning fools too. I guess it is possible.
Anyway, if you believe that the folks who get assistance from Loaves and Fishes need that assistance, and that the churches and volunteers who work there are not fools who create a moral hazard, the Food Bank could use some money to pay the light bill, and to buy food for distribution. You can contact them through the website hyper-linked here for information about how to make a donation.