From the Editor: Food-insecurity issues will likely linger in Delaware

By Andrew West
Posted 10/17/21

DOVER — When Cathy Kanefsky was contemplating taking on the role of president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware, she had some hesitancy.She said she thought about the work she had been doing …

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From the Editor: Food-insecurity issues will likely linger in Delaware

Thousands of people have waited in long traffic lines for Food Bank of Delaware mass distribution events, like this one in March 2020. The organization has an event planned in each county this week.
Thousands of people have waited in long traffic lines for Food Bank of Delaware mass distribution events, like this one in March 2020. The organization has an event planned in each county this week.
Delaware State News/Marc Clery
Posted

DOVER — When Cathy Kanefsky was contemplating taking on the role of president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware, she had some hesitancy.

She said she thought about the work she had been doing with Autism Speaks. She readily understood that mission, having raised two sons with autism.

A challenge, she thought, was that she had not experienced food insecurity.

It can be defined as the lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household. In Delaware, the estimate is 1 out of every 9 people.

“It’s not foreign to me that people struggle and life’s not fair,” said Ms. Kanefsky. “But this has hit me in a different way.

“When I was struggling with whether I could wrap my mind and heart around serving in this role,” she said, “a friend asked, ‘What’s your hesitation?’ I said I have never been food insecure.

“He said, ‘Do me a favor and take the word food away from food insecurity, and you tell me the day that you knew what tomorrow was going to bring.’”

She said that helps explain the Food Bank of Delaware and its mission.

Ms. Kanefsky is now in her sixth month in the role.

***

This week, the organization has three high-profile, high-need mass-distribution events — Monday at Crossroad Community Church, Georgetown; Wednesday at Dover International Speedway; and Friday at Delaware Technical Community College, Newark.

At each, the Food Bank anticipates having enough food to help 750 households.

It was in May that Ms. Kanefsky first experienced a mass-distribution event. It was her second day with the Food Bank, and she was at Dover International Speedway.

“I remember looking around and thinking, ‘Where do the cars end?’ I learned when I got back to the office, and after we talked about the numbers, that it was about a third of what they had seen at the height of the pandemic.”

She said she witnessed the “well-oiled machine” of the Food Bank of Delaware staff and volunteers right away. At the next event, she took time to walk through and see the people who came for help.

“Some people rolled down their windows and said, ‘God bless you.’ And some looked the other way,” she said. “It’s just so humbling. It’s humbling to ask for help, and that whole experience just made them put that stigma aside and get help.”

The Food Bank kicked off its Thanksgiving food drive last week. It includes in-person and virtual opportunities.
Last year, the pandemic created a need to try the online effort.

Essentially, it allows donors to create a food drive page and invite others to donate. It is set up in a similar fashion to how many households now shop regularly.
“We can use that in leveraging our buying power,” said Ms. Kanefsky.

***

Certainly, as our readers will remember, the images that Delaware State News photographer Marc Clery took in March 2020 at the speedway really helped tell the story of the need.

Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that coordinates efforts of more than 200 food banks across the country, says 114,000 people face food insecurity now in Delaware.

A year ago, it was 140,000 — up 33% from the year prior.

Ms. Kanefsky said the estimates likely are low. The Food Bank of Delaware’s 2020 annual report put the number at 164,290 food-insecure Delawareans and close to 121,000 prior to the pandemic.

Nationally, Feeding America estimates that 42 million people face food insecurity.

A few days ago, The Associated Press reported that bulk-distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country revealed a decline in the amount of food handed out.

“It’s come down, but it’s still elevated,” Katie Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of Feeding America, told AP.
The rate of distribution is above 55% of pre-pandemic levels, she said. The organization fears there could be setbacks ahead — noting that the delta variant continues to advance, flu season is ahead, and eviction moratoriums and unemployment benefits are expiring.

***

Besides just handing out food, the Food Bank of Delaware also focuses on “economic mobility.” That includes workforce training programs in culinary and logistics/warehouse jobs in Newark and Milford.

Ground will be broken for an expansion of the Milford location in 2022. The center will triple in size, to nearly 60,000 square feet for warehouse, pantry and classroom space. It will allow Milford to begin logistics and warehouse training.

Additionally, a large garden will be tilled in a field between the Food Bank, the Delaware Veterans Home and the Greater Milford Boys & Girls Club. That will increase volunteer opportunities.

The Food Bank of Delaware also has staff members who assist people with applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program help and staffers who offer financial coaching.

The perils of potential job loss, homelessness and more continue to be a concern.

“I believe that this is something we’re going to have for years and decades,” said Ms. Kanefsky. “That’s probably not the most popular thing for the president of an organization like ours to say. But I think there are so many societal problems that we’re trying to work on.”

She said the organization has hopes of getting a “seat at the table” when other initiatives take place in Delaware. For example, there are affordable-housing plans for the Riverside area of Wilmington, and she believes Food Bank of Delaware may be able to be a part of the solution.

***

Ms. Kanefsky said a story from one of the culinary class graduates helps illustrate the Food Bank’s story.

A man and his wife had lost their jobs. Someone referred him to the Food Bank as a place where he could get help feeding his family.

When he arrived, he came in the wrong door but spotted a flyer about the culinary program before getting instructions on where he needed to go. At the graduation ceremony, he had a chance to talk about his experience. He now has a full-time job at a local restaurant.

“I said to him, ‘Please tell me you went around to the other side and got food before you left,’” said Ms. Kanefsky. “He said, ‘Oh, no, I didn’t. I really wanted to get right home and apply for the class.’

“That just wraps up almost everything we do in a big bow because it was giving him hope beyond that meal.”

Getting back to what she said earlier in this column, all of us face some insecurity.

“It’s true,” she said. “Who knows what tomorrow will bring in any kind of situation — especially for the last year-and-a-half?”

Volunteers and donations are high priorities in her messages to people about the Food Bank.

“But it’s also ‘getting it’ — understanding how we could be in the same shoes tomorrow,” she said.

***

For more information on Food Bank of Delaware, visit fbd.org.


Andrew West is executive editor of the Delaware State News.