DOBSON — After decades of providing food to needy families, this month’s quarterly food distribution by Surry County, held in Mount Airy and Elkin on Sept. 13 and 14, was the county’s last.
During Monday’s meeting at the Surry County Government Center in Dobson, Social Services Director Wayne Black told the Board of Commissioners that drastic cuts in funding from both the state and federal governments have made it impossible to continue the food distribution by his department.
In addition, new rules from the Department of Agriculture mean that the county’s food pantries are no longer eligible for their share of the surplus government food.
In the past, both the county and its food pantries received shares of surplus food, but that is now a thing of the past.
“The (surplus government) food, as far as the government is concerned, will only be that that would come here for quarterly distribution,” Black said. “It was all or nothing. That fact, coupled with the reduction in state funds to purchase food, would have placed the county’s food pantries in dire straits. We’re just trying to prevent a significant reduction in food available to the pantries.”
Black said that in addition to not allowing the pantries to receive surplus food directly, funding for the county’s food distribution efforts played into the decision.
“We’ve recently learned that there has been a 65 percent reduction in federal funds for the program, and that state funds for food banks have been cut by 50 percent,” Black said.
Which means that not only is the amount of food coming to the county shrinking, but the food available in the pantries would have drastically decreased as well.
In fiscal year 2011-2012, Surry County distributed food products valued at $183,611 to an average of 1,654 households through the surplus food distribution program.
Following Black’s presentation to the board, commissioners unanimously voted to discontinue the quarterly distribution of the surplus government food to Surry County effective Sept. 30.
Instead of distributing the food, the county will continue allocating $5,000 to each of the county’s four food pantries, and send the food the county receives from the government to Second Harvest Food Bank, which will use it to restock the shelves of the local pantries.
“What the county’s doing is giving the same amount of money to the pantries that they have for the past several years, but with the cost to the county that I project, they’d have to come up with even more money,” Black said.
Surry County’s Not Alone
Black said Surry County was one of the last counties in the state that held quarterly surplus food distributions. He said that until recently, Iredell and Yadkin counties had also held the distributions, but no more.
“Yadkin County has ended their program in the past few months,” he said. “And Iredell just cancelled it in the past week or so as a result of these changes in rules and funding.”
A Difficult, But Obvious, Decision
Following the meeting, the social services director said the decision to recommend ending the distribution program was a difficult one, but the cuts and the new government rules made the decision obvious.
In the past, the county often broke even on its food distribution efforts, but a reduction in the percentage of funding for administration, coupled with the loss of federal and state money means the county’s administrative costs for future distributions would likely increase significantly.
He said the choice was to either continue distributing the food on a quarterly basis, which in the face of the cuts could cost the county about $10,000 a year, or send the food to Second Harvest, where it will be distributed among the Pilot Mount Outreach Center, Yokefellow Ministries, Foothills Food Pantry and the Tri-County Christian Crisis Ministry.
“For the past three years, it’s cost the county money,” he said, noting that in the past that cost was around $1,500 annually, but recent funding shortfalls would increase the county’s costs to about $10,000.
“If we cease distributing the food ourselves, and tell people to go to the pantries to get it, it won’t cost the county anything,” Black said.
The goal, according to Black, is to not burden needy families in the county, while at the same time being a steward of the county’s taxpayer dollars.
“It’s no longer cost effective to continue doing it the way we’ve been doing it,” he said. “This is no longer the most efficient way to go about this. We can’t pay out over $10,000 in county money to distribute food when there is going to be a decrease in the amount of food we distribute.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.