Southwest Missouri food bank near empty

Sunday, October 21, 2001

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The food bank that normally helps southwest Missouri groups feed the needy is almost empty after changes in grocery distributing practices cut off the main source of food.

"Really, the only food product is on the top shelf here," Ozarks Food Harvest development director Bart Brown said, gesturing to cellophane-wrapped boxes marked "canned peas."

Ozarks Food Harvest, which feeds 25,000 people a month in southwest Missouri, began a food drive this weekend in an effort to bring in between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds of food.

Since April, the food bank has lost nearly 70,000 pounds of salvageable food each month because of changes in grocery distributing practices.

Traditionally, stores receiving damaged goods -- dented cans, torn packages or items close to an expiration date -- would send them back to the wholesalers and receive credit for items they couldn't sell. Salvageable items would then be sent to Food Harvest, which distributed them to agencies in 37 Ozarks counties.

Now, retailers get a discount intended to cover any damages when they place an order. Rejected or unsalable products aren't returned to wholesalers.

It didn't take long for the bank to feel the impact. Donations of salvage goods -- which accounted for nearly 75,000 pounds per month dropped to about 20,000 pounds after April, then to about 8,000 pounds.

The decrease has been most evident in the bank's "miscellaneous room," where dozens of hunger-relief agencies stop by to supplement their shopping lists each week.

"It's empty," Betty Funk, a volunteer with the Webster County Food Pantry in Marshfield, said.

The pantry, like some other agencies, has been forced to buy more items wholesale.

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