Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Food banks adapt to changing times--and some to rural challenges

A story by Katie Zezima in today's New York Times tells how food banks around the nation are adapting to changing times, distributing more produce and other perishable foods and letting patrons choose what they want and can actually use. One of the food banks featured is the Montana Food Bank Network, and excerpts about it highlight the spatial challenges to food distribution in the fourth largest state in the nation. One of those challenges relates to the increased amount of produce the network now receives--produce that might not last until it reaches a rural pantry.
“It’s not just handing out a box here or there anymore,” said Peggy Grimes, executive director of the Montana Food Bank Network, which covers the state. “A lot of effort goes into thinking outside the box. It’s becoming the focus of food banking.”

Grimes' organization partners with the Montana State Prison, where those incarcerated can or otherwise process a great deal of donated produce, fish and meat. Grimes explains that this arrangement allows them to accept donations that they would otherwise have to pass up, given the food's short life span and the size of the state.

The story touches on another recurring challenge to social services in rural locales: the fact that agencies such as food pantries in rural locales are often the only social service agency for miles around, and they become clearinghouses for other services and information.

I am reminded of the California Report story which I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago. In Fresno, California, the food bank is delivering food to needy residents who would otherwise have difficulty getting to the distribution point.

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