Harvest Hope Food Bank experiencing supply chain issues ahead of busy holiday season

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Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 8:47 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Disruptions in the supply chain are being felt across the state and the nation, and now they’re impacting the most vulnerable. South Carolina’s largest food bank, Harvest Hope, is experiencing these issues just as they enter their busiest season.

Harvest Hope Food Bank CEO Erinn Rowe said the food bank is expected to serve two to three times its normal volume of clients during the month of November.

She is confident that Harvest Hope will be able to meet the increased holiday demand but said they’re going to need help from partners to do it.

Rowe says there have been supplying issues throughout the pandemic, but they’ve increased gradually over the last several months.

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“Everybody remembers the toilet paper crisis,” she said. “We’re now seeing it in other commodities, canned items, proteins, things like that we’re seeing starting to see the trickle-down effect from COVID, and then staffing shortages in these large manufacturing plants are having an effect too.”

The most critical impact is being felt in retail donations.

“If you think about going to a grocery store and seeing empty shelves, those empty shelves translate to our shelves because we do get retail donations that have dropped significantly over the past six months,” Rowe said. “Our retail donations are down about five million pounds year over year and that is simply due to supply chain issues.”

Due to these issues, they’ve adjusted their operations to meet the needs of the community. It’s affected how they source food for the BackPack Program.

This initiative provides students in need with a bag full of nutritious food and snacks when they leave school on Friday. Harvest Hope needs 25,000 single-serve microwavable meals for this program every month.

“Those are really in short supply right now and so we’re having to be creative, think outside the box to go find those items,” Rowe said.

Because distribution sites are having a hard time supplying these items, Harvest Hope staff are individually sourcing the supplies from local grocery stores.

“We are grocery shopping,” Rowe said. “We are doing food drives specifically for those items so if people want to give back to us right now, we are looking for those single-serve, pop-top items: macaroni and cheeses, soups, Chef Boyardees, those items are what we put in our bags so that kids can feed themselves over the weekends.”

Pam Dawes has been a Harvest Hope volunteer for a decade and urges people to donate.

“I would encourage anybody that wants to donate and do something positive to give us some money or give us some food because we’re going to have to feed a lot of people this holiday season,” she said.

Rowe echoed that sentiment.

“It is going to take the whole community to come together to truly end hunger in South Carolina,” she said.

Dawes said volunteering at the food bank has enriched her life.

“When you give your time and you give yourself, you get stuff back that you can’t quantify,” she said. “You’re going to walk away with something. If you come here to help or if you donate, you at least should have a warm feeling in your heart.”

Harvest Hope also serves the needs of the community during the Thanksgiving season by distributing holiday boxes. This includes a full meal for a family of four, complete with ham, mashed potatoes, canned vegetables, corn, and stuffing.

The food bank partners with 380 agencies across South Carolina to distribute these holiday boxes.

Harvest Hope says they’re looking for volunteers to pack all of their boxes this holiday season. If you’d like to host a virtual food drive, donate or volunteer, they encourage you to visit their website.

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