Archive for June, 2009

breaking budget update

Posted in budget, economy & politics, food banks with tags , on June 26, 2009 by foodbankguy

It appears as though a “handshake” budget agreement has been worked out between Governor Brewer and the Arizona Legislature, but details remain fuzzy and it is uncertain as to whether the Legislature has the votes to get it passed by Tuesday’s deadline. Some information is being reported here and here, as well as by the Arizona Guardian (subscription required).  More tomorrow probably…

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friday reflections

Posted in economy & politics, food, random with tags , , , on June 19, 2009 by foodbankguy

Just a few Friday reflections today… it’s been a busy week that has pretty much gotten by me. 

Perusing Yahoo News at lunch today, I see that world hunger has now reached one billion people.  Isn’t that amazing?  One billion people.  With all the advances in food production, supply chain, global logistics, awareness and compassion, this number has steadily risen to what it is being reported today.  I suppose it will be more tomorrow. 

I did a presentation on child hunger last night at the Valley of the Sun United Way offices, and found myself in conversation with one of the attendees, a middle-aged female instructor at one of the local community colleges in Phoenix.  She was explaining how the school had recently in essense set up a food bank for students, where they could grab a can of soup from a closet nearby and quickly microwave it in the next room over, no one the wiser.   College students are also increasingly turning to SNAP (food stamps), something that had never even crossed my mind when I was an undergrad a dozen or so years ago.  Between incredible tuition inflation and the economy, I suppose most of them genuinely need it.

My presentation had focused on the numerous resources and programs there are dedicated to fighting child hunger, and the instuctor surmised that the real issue was a lack of communication: so many programs, so many advocates, yet no one-stop shopping where people in the need or people wondering if they’re in the need could go.  I suppose if someone can crack that nut, they’ll have discovered the next big thing and profit handsomely.  But the internet–the key to recent communication innovation–eludes those who need these resources, as they oftentimes can’t afford access and may not know their local library is an access resource.

A commonly held view in food banking, and one I agree with, is that hunger is a distribution problem, not a food manufacturing one.  There’s plenty of food to feed those one billion, but it’s concentrated both by physical location and class that many go without.  That’s a supply chain problem, but it’s also a capitalistic one: people and companies that make food need to make a profit off of it.  But could they give more and sacrifice some profit margin?  Should they?  What is the obligation?  Oddly enough, if someone or some entity were willing do so and made huge in-roads, they would likely be greeting with fortune and celebrity that might offset the lost cash profits.  In today’s culture, I find it somewhat surprising that no one has truly taken that risk. 

But the instructor was right:  communication is a problem in the local here-and-now, and agencies and programs struggle to get the word out about how they can help those who need it.  Twitter connects those in the know, but what app connects those in the know with those who aren’t?

how stamp out hunger and higher gas prices relate

Posted in aafb, food banks, food drives with tags , , on June 12, 2009 by foodbankguy

Stamp Out Hunger, as you may know, is the annual postal service food drive that was just held this past May.  Going on for 17 years now, it is the largest food drive in the country by a wide margin.  This year, 73.4 million pounds of food was collected, marking the sixth consecutive year over 70 million pounds.  Perhaps even more amazing is that in this economy, with so many forced to cut back, over 300,000 more pounds were collected than in 2008!

To give you some perspective, all the food collected for this year’s Stamp Out Hunger campaign translates into nearly 57.35 million meals, which is enough to feed 52,369 people 3 meals a day for an entire year–365 days.  That’s roughly the entire population of Casper, Wyoming, by golly!  I bet nobody who reads this has even been there before… hell, I’ve never been there before… uhhh…  nonetheless, the point stands!

One of the biggest reasons this food drive is so critical to food banks around the country is the supply chain factor:  letter carriers are picking up the food at individual mail boxes, filling their little mail trucks, and delivering the food to local food banks.  That logistical exercise saves food banks a considerable amount of money on transportation and labor costs. 

When people give money to a food bank, the bulk of it goes to the purchase  of food, and indeed food banks in Arizona have a great track record:  AAFB member food banks report that $0.96 of every $1 they receive goes toward food purchase.  There are other, less sexy costs though, and oftentimes those costs are fuel and vehicle maintenance costs.  Someone has to collect all that food you see at a food drive at your local supermarket or other retailer.  Someone has to deliver food out to the small pantries in far away rural communities, and as you know, Arizona is a huge, giant state to traverse.  And when gas prices go up as they have over the past several weeks, you can see how much extra has to be budgeted just to deliver this food.  The fact that the largest food drive of the year includes built-in pick-up makes it an extraordinary event for food banks.

For those curious, this is also an area where AAFB helps out:  the Arizona Statewide Gleaning Project is a trucking operation that transports food to and from food banks, and also rescues leftover, unsaleable or unwanted produce from the Nogales point of entry, Yuma (and by extension, California) and numerous farms throughout the state.  The Gleaning Project is truly a great service for the food banks and is one of the things AAFB is most proud of.

gettin' ready to haul another load for the Arizona Statewide Gleaning Project!

gettin' ready to haul another load for the Arizona Statewide Gleaning Project!

send hunger packing & budget action items

Posted in aafb, budget, food banks, food drives with tags , , , , on June 9, 2009 by foodbankguy

Today was the official launch of St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance’s Send Hunger Packing 2009, a fun way to remember that while summertime means vacations for many, it also means an increased struggle with hunger for far too many Arizonans.  In fact, the summer months are oftentimes a bigger struggle for those with school-age children because those children are away from free or reduced-cost school breakfast and lunch programs.

snazzy logo for a snazzy cause

snazzy logo for a snazzy cause

Sending Hunger Packing is important because community generosity and media coverage typically spikes around the holidays, when nearly everyone is in a festive mood to give back.  When the summer rolls around, it seems more people are hot and surly, and sometimes don’t consider giving even though demand increases.  Did you know that  in a recent report released by Feeding America, 1 in 5 Arizona children live in food insecure households (the 5th worst ranking in the country!), meaning they do not have enough food for their growing bodies?  Unbelievable, but sadly true.  Poor nutrition also contributes to poorer performance in school, as hunger overtakes both desire and capacity to learn.

Summer meal programs for children are available, as some of these recent articles highlight.  However, many children live in areas without them, which is why this program is so important.  Visit St. Mary’s website to learn about how you can Send Hunger Packing through donations of food, volunteer hours or monetary donations.

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BUDGET ACTION & YOU: Are you ready to Take the Power Back, Rise Up with Fists, or otherwise Take it to the Streets to promote a healthy budget that has the best interests of both present day and future Arizona at heart?  Then check out these details on how you can join AAFB and the Arizona Budget Coalition on a Capitol Visit on June 25, or volunteer at a phone bank in the evenings on Mondays or Thursdays throughout the month of June.  You’ll feel better knowing the People Have the Power!

mmmmmm…. a good rant…

Posted in budget, economy & politics with tags , , , , on June 6, 2009 by foodbankguy

Late this week, the Republicans in the House and Senate have passed their budget which they would typically submit to Governor Brewer for approval, but since she is widely expected to veto it, they are holding back from formally submitting it.  A leverage move under the guise of negotiating I would think.  The longer they can hold out, the closer to the June 30 deadline to get a deal done we get, and thus pressure is applied to get Brewer to cave, especially on her plans for a tax increase.  The next few weeks should provide both agony and entertainment to observers as the results unfold…

For the record, I’m okay with a tax increase because I don’t mind chipping in for a better Arizona.  I don’t use many of the services that my tax dollars go to, but then again I do get to drive on adequately maintained roads.  Somebody responds when I call the cops.  Somebody mows the grass and keeps up the park where I walk my dog.  I don’t believe there are people that aren’t getting something for their tax dollar.  Is it always efficiently spent?  Probably not, but then again the vast majority of us tend to find ourselves in a Circle K from time-to-time, even though you can get pretty much everything they sell somewhere else for less.

Yes, sales taxes are regressive, but the argument that increased taxes leads to reduced spending is a red herring.  In my life I’ve been both a poor college student and fairly well-to-do, and in neither situation have I delayed or eliminated a purchase over the tax rate.  Maybe I didn’t consume as much because I didn’t have the means or maybe I didn’t consume as much because the economy was poor and the prudent thing was to save, but my consumption has never been curbed by taxes.  As if in our materialistic consumer-driven culture people are going to hold off on that plasma TV because of taxes… this same culture that more or less lives on credit and has an insatiable need to keep up with the Jones’… is not going to let cash or available credit burn a hole in their pocket because of an increase in the tax rate?   I don’t buy it.  People are going to buy things if they have the means and have convinced themselves it’s a good idea.  

But… but… they’re gonna buy more stuff online and thus not pay taxes!  Sure, I suppose online spending could increase, but you’ve got to account for the “shipping tax” and lack of instant gratification that comes with the internet too… it may well be a better deal to pay the taxes.

Nobody gets excited about paying more taxes.  I get it.  But the issue isn’t black and white, it’s complex… as Arizona has grown, demand for services has as well.  State revenues are down because of unemployment and the economy, and long-term systemic problems with Arizona’s revenue generation mechanisms, so the budget looks bloated by comparison, but it was perfectly fine in better times.  Making the revenue stream more consistent would go a long way towards avoiding the budget mess Arizona is in… spending isn’t the issue.

Obviously, I’m interested in a budget that provides support to services such as food banks and others that make up what is commonly referred to as the social services safety net.  I believe that an advanced, modern society has a responsibility to provide for those who cannot or have severe troubles providing for themselves.  I believe that society as a whole benefits when neighbors are cared for.  This costs money.  This comes with an understanding that there are those who will purposely use the system for their benefit, and are in essense stealing money from the more honest and hard-working portion of society.  No system is perfect.   That said, I don’t believe a life based on scamming the system is all that glamorous; it isn’t something the vast majority of people aspire to have.  Honest people oftentimes make poor decisions that put them at economic disadvantages, perhaps because they were products of Arizona’s poorly funded public education system.  But flat out abandoning these people altogether because of a few bad apples?  I see those with a good education, upbringing and superior moral compass missed the lesson on high horses.