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Why did Northern NY stop getting Farmers to Families Food Boxes?

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 5:48 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2020 at 5:02 AM EST
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - Why has the North Country stopped receiving the federally funded Farmers to Families Food Box program? Our Kelly O’Brien spoke with local leaders who are trying to get answers and help for people struggling to survive the pandemic.

In May, cars backed up to Rugar Street at the SUNY Plattsburgh fieldhouse waiting to get their boxes of fresh, free food.

The distributor was Glazier Food Service out of Malone. The company received $3 million in federal money for the Farmers to Families Food Box program from the USDA, and with it, filled more than 70,000 boxes of fresh, locally produced produce, meats and dairy for North Country families.

“This farm-fresh program is not only important in terms of feeding people, it’s providing nutrition that people wouldn’t get on their own,” said John Bernardi of the United Way of the Adirondack Region.

In phase one and phase two, the program was spread out to several North Country communities and local distributors but has not been seen since August and food insecurity is very much still real.

“The need is there and we definitely need more product to be able to give to people,” said Bruce Garcia of JCEO of Clinton and Franklin and Counties.

So what happened? That is what Assemblyman Billy Jones and other North County leaders and nonprofits want to know. When the USDA renewed the program nationally, they contracted with different distributors that did not include North Country farms.

Some 44% of households are financially unstable and this program played a vital role.

Jones says the program somehow changed and it’s leaving out North Country families and farmers.

“This program has the potential to be so successful, we just want it to be equitable,” said Jones, D-Chateaugay.

Jones says he is working with North Country federal partners like Rep. Elise Stefanik and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to help find a solution.

“This is to make sure that families are fed good, nutritious food and at the same time helping out our farmers. This isn’t political. We just hope our federal partners can get together and get us some more rounds,” Jones said.

Phase four, the last round of the program, is expected to finish up by the end of the year. As of right now, there is no plan for the program to have another location in our region.

I reached out to the USDA for clarification on how it decided which communities to come to and how distributors are picked and whether they correlate at all.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the USDA said: “The program began its fourth round of deliveries November 1, which will run through December 31, 2020. Through a competitive bidding process, USDA awarded contracts to 31 companies for deliveries of food boxes. In the fourth round, as in the third, states have been allocated boxes based on the internal need of the state. To estimate the volume of contracts per state USDA used a 5 year average of The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) distribution allocations. In their proposals, vendors were required to identify nonprofits they partnered with to distribute ‘last mile’ but they also have the ability to add nonprofits to ensure delivery of boxes according to their contract.”

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