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Food bank operations struggle as lines get longer: Farms to Food Bank Co-Founder

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Hellmann’s partnered with Farms to Food Banks to help rescue excess food from American farms and deliver it to consumers in need. Farms to Food Banks Co-Founder Bill Mehleisen joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move to discuss.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Well, food insecurity is a perennial problem. And it's one that has gotten worse amidst coronavirus. Recent survey by Feeding America found that the pandemic could push an additional 17 million people into food insecurity this year. More than 82% of US food banks serving more people than they were last year.

To talk more about this, we are joined by Bill Mehleisen-- "Mell-ison," "Mehleisen." I think I got it right on the third try-- Farms to Food Banks co-founder of. My apologies, Bill.

He's joining us from Brooklyn, New York. And you all are getting some additional funding in this fight from Hellmanns. Talk to me about how you're deploying it and sort of what your biggest challenges in getting food to the people who need it?

BILL MEHLEISEN: Sure, thanks, Julie. And don't worry about the name. There's people in my family who get it wrong.

So I think you know, some of the biggest challenges that we'd seen-- you may have heard this in other segments. I know you've done a couple-- COVID has wiped out a number of the food industry restaurants, cruises, travel industry, et cetera. So massive amount of food that's stuck at farms. And it's a massive logistical problem to get that food to people who, on the other side, have lost their jobs and are in dire need of that.

So one of our biggest challenges has been sort of twofold-- getting the funding so that we can go to the farmers and not just get donated food from them, but pay them and support them in their families for that food. And then also, get it through the logistical pipelines of transportation, distribution hubs, storage, and then last mile delivery to the families.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Hey, it's Adam Shapiro. I am curious-- I always thought, and apparently I was wrong, that the FDA coordinated these kinds of things. Not the FDA, the-- yeah, the FAA-- not-- you see where I'm going? The USDA coordinated these kinds of things. Am I wrong, or are they taking an active role in this?

BILL MEHLEISEN: I think that they are. So there's a Nourish New York program. There is another program that the USDA has started. We haven't touched with that.

So our effort has been citizen-led, friend-led, it's been a small group of people who said, we're going to do something. And so, we just mobilize the forces that we knew how to mobilize. And that kind of spiraled.

So right now, we've had over 2,000 people donate to our-- our charity, which is going to Eastside House. And we haven't touched any of the USDA programs.

- Bill, can I ask where you're seeing kind of the food banks and pantries kind of really start to hit the bottom of what they're-- what's available to them? Are there any specific areas you've been specifically hard hit? I mean, I see people lined up at the one near my apartment pretty regularly now.

BILL MEHLEISEN: Yeah, I think-- so one of the things we've seen is that as we have unfortunately, gotten into this program, the lines are getting longer and larger. And that presents a number of problems. With COVID restrictions it's hard to get through a number of those lines. Our partners and Eastside House have really done a great job of trying to service that need.

And so what we're hearing on the ground is people need basic things. You know, they need food that they can rely on that's going to be there for the month, right? And so, some folks are getting meal prep from a number of great organizations. But that only goes so far, because that's just a meal one time. You know, what we're trying to do is give people food so they have some type of security for at least two weeks, if not longer than that.

JARED BLIKRE: Hey, Jared Blikre here. I'm wondering how COVID itself has maybe changed the entire structure of what you're trying to do? And I'm just wanting from a couple of different angles, for instance, people started eating at home more. And so food that was-- would have been destined for restaurants, now had to be package for individual consumption. So supply chains effect-- effectively upended. And then, have you ever relied historically on extra food from restaurants that may not be there because so many have not reopened yet or are at reduced capacity?

BILL MEHLEISEN: I do know that there's a number of organizations who are working with some of the restaurants. And they've converted them over to community kitchens. Our-- again, our partners at Eastside House are working with some of those. Our primary initiative has been trying to get what we call sort of pantry boxes, where we are trying to get people food that they can make at home.

And so what we saw was this surplus of food from farmers that was going to waste and a surplus of families who really needed it. And so we were trying to connect the dots with those two solutions. And so that's been our primary focus. It's been getting this surplus-- getting it through the system and getting it to families so that they can have food that they're going to make for four, five, six people over the course of two weeks.

JULIE HYMAN: Well, Bill, we wish you luck with this continued effort. Bill Mehleisen is the Farms to Food Banks co-founder. Thank you so much for your time.

BILL MEHLEISEN: Thank you, guys.