FULL EPISODE: 11/28/21 Leadership from two food assistance programs on tackling food insecurity

Published: Nov. 27, 2021 at 6:44 PM EST
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Dave Krepcho, President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, and Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer of the Share Food Program in Philadelphia, about the COVID pandemic’s impact on food insecurity for Gray TV’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, November 28, 2021.

Krepcho and Preston both told Van Susteren the effect of the pandemic on their food programs has been significant. At the height of the pandemic, Krepcho said, his food banks were distributing 300,000 meals a day in the Orlando area, double pre-pandemic figures. “The crazy thing about those numbers is, it wasn’t enough food,” he added.

Preston said that in Philadelphia, the number of individuals served by the Share Food Program increased from 700,000 people to one million a month during the pandemic.

“There’s financial pressures coming in from all angles,” admitted Krepcho, citing the increase in food and fuel prices.

On supply chain issues, Preston said: “I cannot tell you enough how terrible this was at the beginning of the pandemic … we had to really cut back on what we were giving to folks.”

When asked how people can help, Preston told Van Susteren his organization needs both volunteers and financial donations. “We actually do have remote opportunities … We have seniors that we need to call to let them know that their food’s coming,” said Preston. “Aside from that, financial donations are the best way to help us.”

Dave Krepcho and Steve Preston interview excerpts are below.

David Krepcho Highlights

On the impact of the pandemic

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of major hurricane disaster relief, fires, floods, the 9/11 impact on the economy of the United States, the great recession. And I thought I had seen it all in terms of demand for additional food.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Now, along comes a pandemic and it far outweighs anything that we’ve experienced in the past. I couldn’t imagine that we would have to respond in such a way as we did in the past year, and as it continues for a year and a half. So it far outweighs those other kinds of disasters.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Just prior to the pandemic, we were distributing a large amount of food in the central Florida area. And it was about enough food for 50 to 60 million meals. That’s a lot of food.

Greta Van Susteren

Over what period of time? Over what period of time?

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Over a period of year, pre-pandemic. About enough food for 50 million meals. And I thought, I don’t know if we could possibly exceed that.” Well, [the] pandemic hits, the year starting March 2020 to March 2021, this year, we distributed enough food for 100 million meals. So it basically doubled. It works out to about, on average, enough food for 300,000 meals per day.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

And, you think about that, and that’s just one part of Florida. You think about multiplying that nationally, and similar things were going on. Thank goodness that we were able to find the food, and have the financial resources to help. The crazy thing about those numbers is it wasn’t enough food.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

We’ve declined in our distribution level by about 25, 27%, which is a good sign. People are getting back to work, and getting back on their feet. So, we hope to see those numbers continue to decline. But we are still distributing at much higher levels than pre-pandemic.

Greta Van Susteren

Pre-pandemic were people coming for maybe a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, and coming once a week. And did they have to come more often? Have they stayed longer with you because they’ve had a more extended need?

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Definitely. That’s a good point. Because [they were] trying to get back and reemployed, a lot of people went into the gig economy and made a decision not to get back into their traditional kind of work. A lot of parents, especially single parents in many cases, have stayed home to be with their children if they couldn’t go to school. That kind of choice or option.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

So yeah, we’re seeing some folks staying on. And then we’re seeing an increased population of senior citizens. And senior citizens, it really shines the light on the need in that demographic in our population.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

We’re averaging 1200 home deliveries a week, and 70% of those deliveries are to seniors. And, I believe they will stay on. And I think it’s a much-needed program that will live on beyond the pandemic.

On food insecurity among veterans

Greta Van Susteren

Well, you talk about seniors. Brown University has just done a study, and the Pentagon as well, [there is] an enormous amount of food insecurity among our veterans, and even our active-duty military and their families.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Yeah. The active military, especially at the lower ranks in service, there’s a very high percentage of those folks trying to make the budget. And there’s just too much month at the end of the money, so to speak.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

And a lot of these seniors that I’m talking about are veterans. And we’re finding complexes, apartment complexes, where a lot of veterans are living and that just shouldn’t exist. They’ve served our country, and protected us, and kept us safe. And here they are wondering “where can I get my next meal?”

On how to give people food while maintaining their dignity

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Yeah, that is a real challenge because we were having literally a couple thousand phone calls into the organization of people that needed food. And, I listened in on some of these calls with my staff. And so many of them had that shame or that embarrassment. And they would go and tell their stories to kind of provide their worthiness.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

We would have to talk them down and say, “This is okay. You’ve reached us. We can help you.” But what we’ve done in terms of the nature of some of our services to retain that dignity, and here’s one great example: We started home delivery as a food bank.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

I never thought in a million years we would ever do that. Because people were afraid to get out, that they would contract the virus and perhaps perish, or they couldn’t get out for a variety of reasons.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

There was a fear, or they didn’t want to go to a food pantry because 40% of the people who needed the food, for such a long length of time, never had to go to a food pantry before. So that dignity part you’re talking about, we designed this service to do home delivery. So, it’s a volunteer and individual delivering that meal, or a number of meals, to that household.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

So, that really takes a big edge off it. It’s not a public display as in so many of the other kinds of efforts. But that’s one example to do it the way that we have done it.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

And the other thing that we’re working on now is just....We’re doing a much deeper, deeper dive to talk to our neighbors that are in need. And to really look at that dignity issue and what’s going on in their lives, and how could we possibly use their voice, their perspectives on where they are, and design future services accordingly.

On financial pressures at his food bank

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

There’s a certain amount of food that we purchase on an ongoing basis. And we’ve seen on average about a 20 to 30% increase in food costs. I mean, that is substantial.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Then on the other side, we have a fleet of 24 trucks that have to be on the road collecting the food, doing distributions. And the cost of fuel has increased. And when you’re doing thousands of miles a week, that really adds up.

Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

So there’s financial pressures coming in from all angles.

Steve Preston Highlights

On the impact of the pandemic

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

Before the pandemic, we were still serving around 700,000 people a month, which is pretty significant. Philadelphia’s the poorest big city in the country and so we were serving about 700,000 people before. During the height of the pandemic, we were up to a million people a month, and we’ve seen that taper off a little bit, but not too significantly, still serving closer to the million than the 700,000.

Greta Van Susteren

If I went to your program now and talked to people in the line, what would the people be telling me? Why were they there? Had they lost jobs or health issues? Why are most of the people in your lines?

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

It’s pretty varying. Philadelphia’s already a really poor city and we have a relatively high cost of living. A lot of people who have been there traditionally have been food pantry customers for a long time, but we’ve also, throughout the pandemic, seen a lot of people who haven’t traditionally been in pantry lines. A lot of those people who lost their jobs initially during the pandemic were unemployed or underemployed because of many reasons. But what’s incredible about going to the food lines is what a diverse group of people you see. You see people who have been going to food pantries for a long time, you see people who have never been there before and don’t understand the system. The pandemic has really just made it a situation where you go through and talk to people and you hear a lot of different reasons that they’re there.

On the impact of the supply chain issues

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

I cannot tell you enough how terrible this was at the beginning of the pandemic, particularly if you remember when everyone was going to the grocery store, stocking up on milk, eggs, and then it got even worse and folks were stocking up on canned goods. Unfortunately, food banks are really at the bottom of the barrel as far as this stuff goes. Yeah, when the supply chain issues hit, we got hit even harder than everyone else because we’re so far down the chain. When we’re unable to get things, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, we had to really cut back on what we were giving to folks.

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

Luckily, in some places, the government stepped up, we were able to get additional CARES funding to buy produce and veggies, but ultimately we have never been able to successfully meet the actual need of people in the community.

On his work

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

I actually just started this during the pandemic. I started working at Share Food Program because this is the most basic need. This is the best way that you can help people. Housing and food are the two most basic needs that people have and so being able to do this work and to help people with something that they need more than anything else has been really rewarding.

Greta Van Susteren

Do you go home at night feeling self-fulfilled or do you feel depressed when you see people with food insecurity? People are basically hungry, can’t feed their families

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

Both. I feel good about the work we do. We have such an amazing team here at Share Food Program, but yeah, it is really disheartening to see the deep poverty that we have in this country. I think a little bit of both but it’s also great to see how many people step up. We have all these volunteers who come here every day who donate their time, people who use their own gas to make deliveries, people who are donating financially to us, and people like you who are showing interest in sharing the word about what we’re doing. Definitely both sides of it.

On how people can help

Steve Preston, Chief Program Officer, Share Food Program

The biggest ways to help us are volunteering, like you said. We actually do have remote opportunities, too. We have seniors that we need to call to let them know that their food’s coming. We have people who volunteer to do that. Aside from that, financial donations are the best way to help us. Our staff grew by four times over the past year, which is a pretty substantial growth. We need help with everything, we need to buy boxes to get food out, we increased our fleet over the past year, and so financial donations are really the best way to help us out.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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