Proposed cuts to anti-hunger programs 'most significant' in decades

As more activists and organizations join the growing food recovery movement, it’s tempting to believe that food rescue is a new phenomenon. But we’ve been at it for nearly 40 years.

In 1979, the Maryland Food Bank was formed as the nation’s third food bank with a simple idea: rescue good-quality food that would be otherwise thrown away and use it to help struggling families put food on the table. The basic premise of the work we do has not changed, although almost everything else has — particularly the quality of the food we distribute.

Our first food distribution event took place in our founder Anne Miller’s garage, where she distributed 300 cases of frozen donuts. Last year, nearly 20 percent of the food we distributed was fresh fruit and vegetables harvested from Maryland farms, much of which would otherwise have gone to waste.

For all of these years, the food bank has been content to remain behind the scenes, rescuing vast quantities of good food and providing it to community-based groups that feed vulnerable Marylanders. But things have changed in recent months, as proposed cuts to federal food assistance programs are prompting us to take a more vocal stance.

Right now, we are facing the most significant threats to the federal nutrition safety net in decades. The current administration’s proposed cuts to anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) would lead to the loss of at least 45 billion meals over 10 years nationwide, at a time when the charitable food system is already stretched thin, with one in nine Marylanders lacking regular access to healthy food.

With the help of more than 1,250 community partners, we distributed nearly 48 million pounds of food — much of it rescued — in the last year alone, enough for 39 million meals. These food pantries, schools, soup kitchens, shelters, faith- and community-based organizations span the western part of the state all the way to the Eastern Shore.

But let’s not forget that the food assistance safety net in our state — and 49 others nationwide — is made up of many interconnected pieces. Cuts to basic service programs like housing or health care would negatively impact household budgets where food is too often seen as discretionary — and healthy, nutritious food is too often a luxury that families simply cannot afford.

Although the Maryland Food Bank is a potent organization, we would not be able to step in to absorb the additional need that would surely result from the proposed cuts. Ultimately, the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on us, and our distribution partners, will be harmed.

Food insecurity in Maryland is an issue that remains urgent throughout the year — not just at the holidays — and we urge all Marylanders to take an active role in protecting the critical sources of food assistance already in place: federal programs like SNAP and TEFAP as well as the Maryland Food Bank. Visit www.mdfoodbank.org/hunger-action-center to find contact information for your local, state and federal lawmakers.

At the Maryland Food Bank, we’re proud of our history of providing vulnerable children, seniors, veterans and families with good, nutritious food. Today, we are working hard to get more food to the 682,200 food-insecure Marylanders who can’t always put a meal on the table. And, we’re here for you. By doing the work we do, we are making local communities, and ultimately the entire state, stronger and better. But we can’t do it alone.

Carmen Del Guercio is president and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank; his email is carmen@mdfoodbank.org.

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