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Federal shutdown impacts local food resources

The Spectator - 1/23/2019

Jan. 23--BELMONT -- The consequences of the federal shutdown extend far beyond Washington, DC, with its impact felt on local dinner tables.

Local food pantries and meal programs are hoping for the best case scenario, while at the same time preparing for the worst, as they work together to adequately meet the nutritional needs of thousands of food insecure people in Allegany County. The federal shutdown is now creating very real and lasting negative impacts on local families, local officials stated Tuesday.

According to the Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), there are approximately 1.54 million households throughout NYS that rely upon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help supplement household income and put food on the table. That figure includes 2,950 households in Allegany County. Children, single parents, and the elderly will all feel the consequences of the shutdown.

Suzanne Krull, of the Cuba Cultural Food Pantry, explained the roll of SNAP benefits.

"We know that SNAP benefits were never intended to completely meet the nutritional needs of the people who receive them," she said. "Emergency pantries, free mobile food distributions, and hot meal sites have already been essential to meeting those needs, and the shutdown will make emergency services even more critical."

OTDA released a public statement on Jan. 14 to notify SNAP households they will receive February benefits as early as Jan. 17. OTDA confirms in this statement that there will be no further benefits awarded in February and suggests families budget their benefits accordingly until the end of February.

The Allegany County Food Coalition met on Wednesday, Jan. 16, to discuss these impacts and create a plan of action to ensure that those who depend on food resources in Allegany County are able to access the food assistance that they need. Coalition members shared similar concerns about the impact that an ongoing shutdown will have upon local families. Christine Slocum, Nutrition Outreach and Education Program Coordinator for Allegany County, will continue to work day to day to ensure that as many eligible people as possible get connected to SNAP.

Pantry coordinators expressed concern for the welfare of the families they serve, both for returning families and for new families who are finding they have little options but to visit emergency food services in order to feed their families.

"It is likely that we will see an increased need and reliance on emergency food pantries in February," said Bolivar Community Food Pantry coordinator Mark Kandel.

Other coalition members echoed similar concerns with trying to meet the need. Belinda Knight, ACCORD Belmont ACCESS Center Food Pantry, stated, "We have already had a slight increase in emergency pantry utilization in the past six months. It can be challenging for us to keep the pantry stocked between deliveries. We are planning now for an increase in February. We'll either seek additional funding or community donations to stock our pantry if needed."

ACCORD's pantry serves approximately 125 families a month. Combined, coalition members estimated they are collectively distributing over 1,000 emergency food boxes, a 3-5 day supply of food, per month. Many local emergency food pantries are members of Foodlink, and receive free or purchase food at a nominal cost from the region's foodbank located in Rochester. Foodlink is a fundamental resource for many pantries, but it will not be enough during a prolonged shutdown.

Even though coalition members agreed that emergency food providers must increase their collaborative efforts and pool resources during this extraordinary time, community support will also be essential to ensure that families in Allegany County have the nutritional support they need to stay healthy. Donations of both perishable and non-perishable items can be made directly to community pantries to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens have the food resources they need.

Members include: ACCORD Belmont ACCESS Center Food Pantry, Andover First Baptist Church Food Pantry, Angelica Food Pantry, Belfast United Methodist Church Food Pantry, Bolivar Community Food Pantry, Catholic Charities Food Pantry (Wellsville), Cuba Council of Churches Food Pantry, Cuba Cultural Center Food Pantry, Fillmore Church Center Food Pantry, Gospel Fellowship Church Food Pantry (Belmont), Houghton Wesleyan Church Food Pantry, Mission Agape Food Pantry (Friendship), Portville Community Food Pantry, Rushford Food Pantry, Salvation Army Food Pantry (Wellsville), Whitesville United Methodist Church Food Pantry.

Pantry contact information can be found at www.211Helpline.org or by calling 2-1-1.

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