Nearly $300,000 in food purchased by Greater Washington County Food Bank went undistributed at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn last year despite the increased problem of food insecurity throughout the region.
An internal inventory report released late Tuesday showed the food bank had $298,173 in undistributed supplies bought through the State Food Purchase Program during fiscal year 2019-20 that remained in storage as of Feb. 23, more than half of which was bought using federal COVID-19 relief funds.
The food bank’s staff conducted the inventory count in February two months after Washington County commissioners voted to redirect about $240,000 in state and federal funds from the Centerville-based food bank to Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is now handling food distribution in the area and will take over full responsibility June 30.
The commissioners were made aware of the vast amount of undistributed food earlier this year, but the detailed report was delivered to them this week, county Human Services administrator Kim Rogers said.
“We don’t know or understand the reason the food purchased during that fiscal year wouldn’t be distributed, especially during a pandemic when food security rates increased,” Rogers said. “That is one of our concerns. Making sure people have access to this food.”
None of the food was expired, although nearly $3,000 in instant mashed potatoes was on the edge of the range that could be consumed, Rogers said. The large amount of food remaining prompted the Pittsburgh food bank to take ownership of the inventory this spring and immediately begin working to get it to the community.
“We weren’t prepared for an additional $300,000 in food products that had been sitting in the warehouse,” Rogers said of when services began to transition to Greater Pittsburgh. “It’s certainly a concern to have such a large quantity of food to be purchased and not distributed.”
The food bank received $206,000 in federal CARES Act money to purchase additional food during the pandemic, but still had $169,318 in food supplies from that money remaining earlier this year, according to the report. Overall, there were 408,784 units of food remaining that ranged from various vegetables, fruits, noodles, sauces and meat.
“Operating a food bank and knowing food security is rising, there should’ve been some cognizance in the community on how to get that food distributed,” Rogers said.
Chris Claspy, the acting board president of the Greater Washington County Food Bank, said the food bank’s normal annual food supplies were “supplemented with additional delivery” of resources from other sources thanks to COVID-19 relief funds and various donations.
“Greater Washington County Food Bank received millions of pounds of donated food during the pandemic and never turned anyone away without food,” Claspy said in an emailed statement. “In an effort to distribute the product to the community free of spoilage and disruption, the Greater Washington County Food Bank creates an annual food plan for the distribution of its food supply.”
Claspy said any perishable food received through additional supplies was distributed earlier in the year. He added all remaining state food products that remained were still within the shelf life and have been transferred to Pittsburgh’s food bank for local distribution.
Rogers said the program requires food banks use the state and federal funds to purchase the food items, but there’s no deadline on when they must distribute them. She did not know why some of the food was not given out during the pandemic, but one of the main reasons the county reallocated its aid to a new food bank was because of changes to how Greater Washington managed the pantry system after eliminating several of them in recent years.
“That spurred us to look for a new provider,” Rogers said.
Greater Washington County Food Bank announced in April the nonprofit would not coordinate with Pittsburgh on food distribution when the transition is finalized later this month. Washington said it would work as a separate nonprofit on short-term emergency, long-term and community food support programs beginning next month.