SHINNSTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — Normally, Tom Edgell, who runs the Lord’s Pantry food bank in Shinnston with his wife, would send two 27-foot trucks to get food from Mountaineer Food Bank supplied by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) once a month. On the food bank’s next trip, just one pickup truck is going, because Edgell says that’s how much availability has decreased since early this year.
“Right now, there’s only 257 pounds of free food available to us,” Edgell said. “And that is some brown beans and some canned chicken. Everything else, I’ve had to find a way to procure it locally—buying it.”
Edgell said the only food the Lord’s Pantry gets for free from the Mountaineer Food Bank is what the federal government buys from farmers; everything else is purchased.
“You won’t find much in here today that has ‘USDA’ written on it because the money is just not going there,” Edgell said. “So it’s hurting the farmers, it’s hurting the food chain and it’s hurting those who need it.”
At the same time, Edgell says demand for food has gone up, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has also gone up because of persistent—and some months record—inflation.
So Edgell and his team of 33 volunteers are working to try and get more food to more people in need, while donation money doesn’t get them as far as it used to.
“We’re going through a real tough time now because the USDA is not providing anything to the Mountaineer Food Bank,” Edgell said. “Free food as people know it just doesn’t exist, so we’re having to really spend a lot more money than normally.”
Thanks to donations from the community and local businesses, the Lord’s Pantry is making up the difference. Edgell said the local community garden donates its produce, the Price cutter in town gives Edgell a deal on food, and Abruzzino’s Italian Bakery in Gypsy donates excess products, like bread and pepperoni rolls.
The supply shortages are hitting the Lord’s Pantry as well.
“Meat is becoming very scarce and very expensive,” Edgell said. “I do have a decent supply on hand, but when you give it out to as many people as we do, it doesn’t last a long time.”
Edgell said the team aims to provide clients with a well-rounded, nutritious diet, purchasing everything from meat to bananas, and even Ding-Dongs “because everybody deserves something sweet in life.”
The Lord’s Pantry’s clients, according to Edgell, are mostly grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
“It’s not deadbeats. It’s people who have worked but just can’t afford it anymore,” Edgell said.
Many are on a fixed income, and as the prices of everything increase, they’re struggling to pay for it all.
“With inflation the way it is, [it’s] tough for them to pay utility bills, buy the medicine, get these kids ready to go to school, provide food,” Edgell said. “It’s a touching situation to get involved in, but everybody here who comes in, our people are all volunteers, nobody gets paid for anything.”
The Lord’s Pantry’s July report shows it served 281 families, for a total of 622 people. Of those, 52 were new clients. The food bank’s 33 volunteers spent 468 hours picking up, sorting, packaging and handing out food to those clients. Edgell said the food bank is preparing to expand and provide food to more than 300 families when Ten Mile Baptist Church’s food bank closes at the month due to a lack of volunteers.
What does Mountaineer Food Bank say?
Mountaineer Food Bank Communications Coordinator Gabri Schoolcraft told 12 News the decrease in available USDA food isn’t necessarily a supply issue, it’s a funding issue. She said food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) has seen a decrease in commodities of 11.2% just from Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 of this year.
TEFAP funding, Schoolcraft said, is determined by Congress.
At the height of the pandemic, she said Mountaineer Food Bank was getting 80 truckloads of food from the USDA per month, and now, it gets 10. With fewer truckloads, Schoolcraft said the bank is also seeing less variety.
Like smaller food pantries, Mountaineer Food Bank has had to spend more on food to maintain its supply amid inflation. Schoolcraft said in the first seven months of 2022, the food bank has spent $2.5 million on food, which she said has never happened before.
On top of that, Schoolcraft said Mountaineer Food Bank has seen a decrease in food donations from 2020 to 2022 by 52.9% and has also seen an increase in first-time requests for food.
What does the USDA say?
12 News asked the USDA what was behind the decrease in available food. The agency provided a lengthy off-the-record statement, but would not go on the record.
A publically available memo from the USDA’s website details where TEFAP funding from 2022 is coming from.
According to the document, West Virginia’s total estimated food grant available in fiscal year 2022, including carryover from 2021, is $2,798,282. The USDA’s fiscal year 2021 memo lists the same figure as $3,002,140.
What if I need food or want to donate?
Edgell said that some of the people who have had to go to the Lord’s Pantry in the years since the pandemic began have felt embarrassed. He stressed that you do not need to feel that way.
“We don’t want people to feel embarrassed,” Edgell said. “They need it. They deserve it. We want to get it to them.”
The Lord’s Pantry is located at 77 Church Ct. in Shinnston. Its phone number is 304-592-3005. It is always accepting food, money and/or plastic bags from those who wish to donate.
You can donate to Mountaineer Food Bank online or mail donations to 484 Enterprise Drive, Gassaway, WV 26624. Mountaineer Food Bank holds mobile food pantry events and has a schedule available online.
All local food pantries are experiencing these issues, Edgell and Schoolcraft say. Any food bank near you will likely appreciate any type of donation.