Albertsons closure will impact food banks

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer October 08, 2012 02:29 pm

A shopper looks for bargains  Tuesday as Albertsonsí final days of operation in La Grande wind down. BRAD MOSHER - The Observer
A shopper looks for bargains Tuesday as Albertsonsí final days of operation in La Grande wind down. BRAD MOSHER - The Observer

Longtime supermarket played integral role in Community Connection’s Fresh Alliance Program 

The closure this month of Albertsons supermarket in La Grande will have a deeply negative impact on Community Connection’s efforts to feed the hungry, the agency’s food bank manager said.

Albertsons is closing the middle of this month. The store has been a key partner in Community Connection’s Fresh Alliance Program, and is shutting its doors at a time when demand on area food pantries is up.

“We will be facing a new challenge in finding another local grocery store to assist in out Fresh Alliance Program,” said Carmen Gentry, Community Connection’s food bank manager for Union, Wallowa, Baker and Grant counties. “This program is a vital one where we rescue products from local grocery stores and keep good food from going to the landfill. Albertsons’ long-time dedication to the program will be significantly missed.”

Gentry said the Albertsons closure comes at a time when demand for services from food banks is up and supplies of United States Department of Agricultural commodities are falling. 

USDA commodities to Oregon food pantries decreased 60 percent in fiscal year 2012, from 18 million to 8.5 million pounds. Janeen Wadsworth, acting chief executive officer for the Oregon Food Bank Network, said the network had to dip into its reserve fund for the first time to purchase food.

“The network is blessed with tremendous support from individuals and businesses. Even so, we are straining to meet unprecedented requests for emergency food,” Wadsworth said.

Since the start of the Great Recession in 2008, food box distribution has increased 41 percent in the state. The Food Bank Network distributes about 350,000 more food boxes annually than it did before the recession, according to Gentry. She said her agency distributed 17,580 emergency food boxes the last fiscal year, a seven percent increase over the previous year.

“The biggest issue with the increase is that the amount of food we are getting is declining at a devastating rate of 18 percent,” Gentry said.

Wadsworth said proposed cuts in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program, would contribute to the problem of feeding Oregon’s hungry.

“The proposed cuts would greatly increase the number of Oregonians seeking emergency food and would simply overwhelm our network,” she said. “We are doing our part. Congress must do its part and adequately fund the food stamp program.”

Locally, Gentry is urging people to help in whatever way they can. Those able to make donations of money or food can call her at 541-963-7532, ext. 12. One option is to join Community Connection’s monthly sustainer program by making a comfortable monthly gift.

Gentry said she is also urging people to contact their elected representatives about the cuts to SNAP.

“We’re asking people to give money, give food and give voice,” she said.