PINCKNEYVILLE — A food pantry owner is upset over a recent departure in food commodity availability provided by Wal-Mart and distributed through the
St. Louis Area Food Bank.
“We used to have six months backlog. Now, we’re down to three months. We have enough to carry us over for the holidays,” said George Culley of The Least of the Brethren Food Pantry in Pinckneyville about his current food inventory.
The halt in food availability is described by Culley and his wife, Betty, as those commodities they purchased in “banana boxes,” directly from the St. Louis Area Food Bank. They were food items such as pasta, crackers, soups, canned meat and vegetables from Wal-Mart that came to the food bank through a company, Carolina Logistics, that was retained by Wal-Mart.
Food bank spokesperson Ryan Farmer said Wal-Mart announced earlier this fall it would not continue its contract with Carolina Logistics which sorted and delivered the food items to food banks. The giant retailer is distributing directly to food pantries now through its centers and stores, Farmer said.
Wal-Mart corporate spokesmen did not respond to email and phone messages from The Southern Illinoisan.
In addition to the Wal-Mart departure, Farmer said the food bank ordering list has shortened because of other developments such as national food manufacturers
providing fewer commodities.
Culley said even though the cost of ordering banana box items steadily increased the past couple of years, from
10 cents per pound of commodities in 2012 to 13 cents in 2013, those items accounted for about 90 percent of his stock. Since January 2012, Culley said he has paid the food bank a $60 monthly freight charge to get those commodities.
In an attempt to prevent food inventory shortages, Culley said he recently visited Walmart stores in Du Quoin and Sparta, making inquiries with store managers about getting food commodities directly from those stores. He said he was told by managers at those stores that their (Walmart) food donations go to Western Egyptian Food Pantry.
“I can’t get it locally or nationally. I’m out in the cold,” Culley said about trying to get food from Wal-Mart and Walmart stores for his food pantry.
Betty Culley said the banana box items provide variety to the 25 items given to families in a single order.
“We relied heavily on the banana boxes. We will still process orders through monetary donations. If we didn’t have that (monetary donations), we would be scrounging,” Betty Culley said.
Other local food pantries have utilized different means to keep their pantries stocked. It’s been a process they have relied upon to sustain themselves through cutbacks from the St. Louis Area Food Bank including reductions in U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidies that began in 2011.
The food bank began getting fewer commodities at that time because of the rising cost of food, less damaged product from food manufacturers because of increased efficiency and the high cost of fuel to transport food, a chief executive food bank officer, Frank Finnegan told The Southern Illinoisan at that time.
“We are trying to be more cognizant,” Farmer said, noting the food bank which serves more than 500 agencies including other area pantries in Marion, Chester and Carbondale has seen its distribution increase from 25 million pounds of food in 2012 to 35 million pounds through Sept. 30.
Director Jack Cunneen of the Murphysboro Food Pantry said his pantry used to purchase some of the Wal-Mart products through the St. Louis Area Food Pantry, but discontinued that practice years earlier after working out an arrangement to get commodities directly from the Murphysboro Walmart store. Those items include meats, delicatessen foods, bakery and dairy items.
“It’s not an everyday thing, but the amount is substantial,” Cunneen said.
Cindy Lemmons of Western Egyptian Food Pantry and Outreach Office in Du Quoin said the pantry does not purchase any commodities from Wal-Mart through the food bank.
Like Murphysboro Food Pantry, Western Egyptian gets food directly from an area Walmart store.
“We don’t buy anything. We get what they (Walmart store) give us. We get enough that carries us through our distributions on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Lemmons said about area Walmart stores and other food item donations .
The Du Quoin Food Pantry now in its 27th year does not purchase any items from Wal-Mart.
“We declined because we don’t have facilities for perishables or other surplus. We’ve been able to maintain quantity by dipping into our reserves,” said Du Quoin pantry board member Bob Cook.
The pantry relies also on local food drives conducted by the Boy Scouts and local churches, he said.