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Supply chain disruption hits Palm Beach County Food Bank

An image of volunteers packing boxes with food at the Palm Beach County Food Bank in Lake Worth.
Wilkine Brutus
Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds packing boxes with food at the Palm Beach County Food Bank in Lake Worth.

When we go to the store and buy an apple, we don't always understand all of the logistics that it takes to get that apple from a tree in another state to our local grocery store. But when there aren't enough truck drivers or gas prices keep rising, it might take longer for that apple to arrive — and it might not arrive at all.

Across industries, the pandemic has disrupted the supply chain and it’s creating ripple effects on how businesses operate. And even food banks are having a hard time feeding the most vulnerable as we navigate the holiday season, according to Jamie Kendall, CEO of the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

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Kendall says the food bank’s new warehouse in Lake Worth supplies food to nearly 200 partner agencies, most of whom identify and deliver food assistance in areas most affected by food insecurity — from low income senior centers to church pantries and rehab homes.

The food banks procure food and they’re experiencing difficulty with food donations, their primary source.

Retail donations "dove down in the amount of food that we would normally be receiving, especially at this time of year because they are having a hard time getting the food in themselves,” Kendall said. “There's been an increase in the price of food. So we're seeing a decline in our donations. So that is affecting us greatly with the amount of food that we can get out to our partner agencies, the boots on the ground, the people that are out there feeding the masses with all the different programs that they have.”

Kendall says the food bank is a sub-recipient of the Emergency Food Assistance Program or TEFAP, a federal program that allows them to receive USDA commodity food for their agencies. Disruption hit that chain, too.

“So even as a federal commodity comes down the pike, they're having trouble getting the food to us. Loads are being canceled for various reasons because of the supply chain issues,” Kendall said. “So here we are. The federal government who has this wonderful program is also seeing the problems.”

CEO Jamie Kendall leading volunteers at the Palm Beach County Food Bank in Lake Worth.
Wilkine Brutus
CEO Jamie Kendall leading volunteers at the Palm Beach County Food Bank in Lake Worth.

Kendall gave more reasons behind the struggling food banks in a conversation with WLRN's Wilkine Brutus. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

WLRN: Have you spoken to families who have suffered increased levels of food insecurity as of late?

KENDALL: Just recently, a heartbreaking story. I had a mother. She's a single mother. She has three young children. She's struggling, and she was telling me that she actually gives them extra water to drink at night before they go to sleep. So their rumbling tummies don't wake them up. Imagine that! Having to give your child more water to drink, to fill their stomachs up before they go to sleep at night. This should not be. The person that is food insecure — we are seeing that they are having issues because the price of food at the grocery stores is up. They are working on limited incomes, if any income at all, to purchase food to supply to their families and themselves. They're being stretched thin and hence the need for a safety net as a food pantry is being escalated.

And are you still able to meet some of those demands for the families?

We are rising to the occasion, of course. But having said that, it's become more difficult for us. We have spent almost a million dollars in three months on purchasing food, and those foods that we purchased were normally foods that we would rely heavily on donated. So we're being stretched thin.

When I got here, your staff said you were running around, right? It's such a busy operation. Is the food bank able to get any additional help to navigate the situation?

So we are always looking and working with some suppliers that we can purchase food from to get the most bang for our buck. We talk with people about doing food drives and what we love people that go out there and they do food drives. Who hasn't had a child come home from school and say, you know, our school's , I need to bring some cans of food. And so you open up your pantry and you look at the, you know, six cans of garbanzo beans.

And you decide to send those, or you go to the store and you spend $5 on getting, you know, three cans of soup so your child can bring that in or it can go to a food drive somewhere. But imagine that $5 that you just spent on three cans of soup. I could take that $5, and because of our buying power and the suppliers that we do work with, I can buy a case of soup.

So we kind of stress that while absolutely we'd love our food drives, financial donations are greatly appreciated because we could really, really stretch and get more in.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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