Food insecurity, food bank needs real issues, lawmakers told

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Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee member Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, sharing statistics she read recently about Kentucky children experiencing food insecurity. 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – In recent months, lawmakers have heard testimony from various organizations on the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on child welfare, veterans and more.

Lawmakers on the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee heard testimony Thursday on COVID-19’s effect on food insecurity and hunger in Kentucky and how state funding has helped meet the needs of hungry Kentuckians across the state.

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“As people struggle still not earning as much, still not receiving the benefits they’re used to receiving, … we’re quite concerned about the impact of the pandemic,” said Tamara Sandberg, executive director of Feeding Kentucky.

As of July 21, over 270,000 Kentuckians did not have enough to eat, according to Sandberg’s presentation. Sandberg said that number is expected to increase by 40 percent in the next 12 months.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data from the presentation shows nearly one in seven Kentuckians were food insecure before the pandemic. Sandberg said that included 190,600 children and 1 in 6 of older adults.

Sandberg said Feeding Kentucky works with seven regional food banks across the Commonwealth that serve all 120 counties that were feeding around 50,000 Kentuckians per week before the pandemic.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Sandberg said about the need for food bank assistance since the pandemic. “We experienced an enormous increase in the need for food assistance particularly in March and April. At the same time, we experienced a decrease in the amount of food available as some of our typical sources ran out as the entire food (supply) chain was stretched.”

With social distancing requirements and with many food bank volunteers being older adults who are more vulnerable to contract COVID-19 and experience complications, food banks have had to spend more money to meet the needs of their respective communities.

Sandberg said thanks to support from the General Assembly, Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky’s food banks have been able to meet the increased demand for food bank assistance.

With the Farms to Food Banks program, farmers donate produce and other agricultural products that would have otherwise gone to waste to Kentucky’s food banks. While the products are donated, Feeding Kentucky works to offset the cost it takes to harvest, pack and ship the products.

Sandberg said in 2019, nearly 3 million pounds of Kentucky grown produce were “rescued” to provide a half a plate of fruits and vegetables for nearly 5 million meals. Since 2011, the program has led to the “rescue” of 21 million pounds of food with $4.2 million paid to farmers.

“So the dollars that you all in the General Assembly contribute to this program is making a huge impact on hungry people, on the farmers and the communities where those farmers are located, so we’re very proud of that,” Sandberg said.

Kentucky has seen an $8.9 million return in its investment, she added.