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The City Journals

Food giveaway event reaches 40K pounds

Jul 12, 2021 02:53PM ● By Phelan Acheson

Volunteers at the food giveaway event. (Phelan Acheson/City Journals)

By Phelan Acheson | [email protected]

Found on the official Facebook page for the Riverton City Government was a post about a 40,000-pound food giveaway in the community on May 22. These food giveaways were part of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program. According to the USDA official website for the program, 170,953,217 boxes of food; including produce, dairy and meat, had been distributed as of May 21. 

The food box program has entered its sunset period, which means it is winding down. The boxes distributed on May 22 were the last shipment of the final round. At least, that is the case for the community sponsor running the show at this particular giveaway. Community sponsors are nonprofit organizations in the community used to facilitate the distribution of food boxes from the program to the people in the community. This giveaway was organized by The Front Church.

Being the sponsor, it was evidently the church’s job to gather manpower, such as volunteers, from the community. When asked about the program itself, Nate Rey, the church’s lead pastor, said: “The USDA instituted this program last year, this is the coronavirus relief effort. What happened is last year, when coronavirus started to wreak havoc, the farmers’ pipelines and therefore distribution pipelines were cut off. When they were cut off, the government came to the farmers and said, ‘We’ll buy your food.’ And, of course last year, it was pretty, pretty nasty for a minute.”

With the recent federal push to reopen schools and the economy now that vaccines are being distributed more widely, the USDA winding down the Farmers to Families Food Box program may seem like a logical move. The pipelines and distribution channels Rey mentioned are likely to be opening back up, and farmers would then logically be able to use their traditional markets to sell and distribute the food they produce. 

Rey went on to talk about the impact of this program on the community and indicated that only about 30% of its volunteers at any given distribution were from the church. The other 70% of the manpower came from the community at-large. He also explained that they had helped at least thousands of households with food in the five rounds of the program. 

Another volunteer at the distribution, named Thomas, discussed how he felt regarding this food box program ending. 

“It’s kind of like sad that it’s coming to an end, but overall, I think like we’ve made a pretty large impact donating food and that was the point of this,” he said. Thomas also elaborated on what he felt the negative impacts might be. “I do think that a lot of people have really needed help for most of the COVID pandemic and with potentially losing their jobs. So, the fact that this program is coming to an end might detrimentally impact a lot of people. So from that perspective, it’s kind of a shame that this program is going away. But hopefully, as things calm down, the need will go away, but hopefully the government still supplements that somehow, like the unemployment benefits or some other programs.”

Other programs may come down the pipeline, either at the federal, state or municipal levels. They may also come from community members and organizations. A cursory internet search reveals several food bank-style programs operating in the Riverton area and nearby areas. 

A recipient of the food box program, who asked to remain anonymous, had this to say about the program ending: “Well, I have been relying on the food box program for months now. Due to COVID in particular, our financial situation is very difficult. My adult son and I share a home because neither of us can afford to make it on our own. He lost his job after getting COVID, and the food boxes have made it so we are able to pay rent. Losing the food boxes means me coming up with hundreds of dollars in grocery money that I don’t know how to afford.” 

When asked about the jobs recovery and if her son was looking for work, this same recipient said: “My son has been actively looking for work for months. He has applied to literally over a thousand jobs, and I have no idea how many interviews he’s been on. He’s highly experienced and qualified, but the competition, after so many people losing their jobs, is untenable.”