The trade war with China has turned into a windfall for food banks, because the U.S. government is buying products American farmers can’t sell overseas and is donating it to charity instead.
In Tulsa, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma reports contributions from the USDA has doubled in the last year, from 3.6 to 7 million pounds of food.
The food bank supplies needy Oklahomans with more than 450,000 meals every week, and the additional food is helping fill supplies during what’s normally a slow period for donations.
“A lot of times in the summer, we're having to purchase product with extra money to provide to our partners,” said Greg Raskin, spokesman for the food bank. “Now with this extra material from USDA we've got food we can send out, and without the cost.”
The Chinese reacted to American tariffs on their products by decreasing what they buy from American farmers. The US Government is buying the commodities instead and giving it away through the USDA. In the Farm Bill, it’s a $1.4 billion dollar item.
“One of the great things about USDA material is that it's all packaged uniformly so it's real easy to transport coming in and it's easy to get to our partners and they just love getting it” said Raskin.
In the ten years that Christal Washington has spent volunteering and now working at the food bank, there has been a shift more towards distributing fresh fruit and vegetables. She said the latest USDA shipments included many apples, apricots and plums.
“Just like the USDA product that comes in, we make sure that it’s fresh going out, so every one has fresh fruit. Everyone wants fresh fruit,” said Raskin.
While fresh produce is now forty percent of what passes through, Raskin said the bounty from the USDA includes a variety of dried and canned products that are unusual for their inventory: cherries and plums and ground pork among them.
“So there's a lot of food grown in the United States that's not getting exported, so the government is trying to sustain farmers, keep prices at a normal level, and they're buying a lot of the products and then donating it to food banks," Raskin said.