The decreasing access to food has ramped up USDA’s partnerships with major food retailers with grocery delivery and pickup services.
Midway into the US shutdown, food deserts and hunger increased so fast that the USDA agreed to expand its pilot program permitting online shopping to those receiving SNAP benefits. Along with Amazon, Walmart, and ShopRite, more localized stores added online shopping as an option to SNAP recipients.
Included in the program are more localized stores such as Aldi and The FreshGrocer, much smaller markets that work with New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Said USDA in a release. “Grocery pickup is already an option that these retailers offer beyond SNAP so they are already thinking through how they can provide a safe environment to do so with the growing concerns around social distancing.”
What started out as about a dozen stores in the pilot program, is now in 46 states including Washington DC. In exchange, the USDA has been providing technical support along with working with states’ leadership in what the agency calls a “public health emergency.”
While cities are using online deliveries, the challenge with the program is getting food to rural America. With 43 million, people who are SNAP recipients—6 million more since March—rural America makes up 85 of the top 100 counties receiving SNAP benefits.
States like Kansas, shows huge food distribution disparities. While the Midwest state is a member of the online program, only 4 percent is developed, thus jeopardizing 96% of the just over 185,000 SNAP recipients.
However, due to the lapse of infrastructure between retail giants and their delivery services to rural America, people cannot full access services. As a result, rural America is starving.
Phil Blackburn, an independent grocery store owner in rural Washington state explains to In These Times that most stores in rural America are independently owned. In order to participate in the USDA program, they would have to upgrade their technology and be “somewhat computer savvy,” explains Blackburn. He also points out the $35 minimum order to use the service cuts off a significant amount of possible online customers.
Moreover, the Farmers to Families program is short by 8 million meals in reaching its quota. Part of the problem are contracts awarded to delivery service providers, and more new delivery companies with little to no experience in a high-demand market.
However, there are people who work around the shortcomings of the USDA. Since 2017, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown created the Black Church Food Security Network to purchase food from farmers to feed the church community in his Baltimore hometown. Rev. Brown is one of a number of church visionaries using the model of food sovereignty to feed congregations and those in need, food from their gardens.
The organization tweeted, “Black Churches all over the country are growing food on their own land to help feed their members & community.”
As food security becomes more of an issue, organizations and church communities must address feeding their flock.
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