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Q&A: Warding off hunger

The Food Bank of WNY distributes 15 million pounds of nutritious, fresh and shelf-stable food each year to its 318 partner hunger-relief agencies throughout the region. In any given month, the Food Bank and its partners assist as many as 43,000+ households.

In this season when food is the center of so many family gatherings, we asked CEO Tara Ellis a few questions.

You get a lot of attention during the holiday season. How do you carry your message and mission to the rest of the year?

Hunger is 365 days a year; while many families turn to us during the cold winter months, just as many turn to us during summer when their children are no longer receiving two nutritious meals through their schools. I always encourage community members to come tour the Food Bank. It is an eye-opening experience to see the scale of our operations and how we rely on community support to continue our mission all year long. They can get involved by calling the Food Bank at 852-1305 or by filling out a volunteer application at foodbankwny.org.

Is there an individual story that has touched you the most?

Truly every story is touching, and I never lose sight of the fact that I or someone I love could at any moment be in our clients’ shoes. One story in particular touched me recently while visiting a food pantry in Cattaraugus County. A very poised woman just a bit older than me shared her story. Her husband recently retired from a long career in a factory and they were so excited to travel and see some of the United States. But then their only child—a grown son—was diagnosed with brain cancer which took his life in a few short months. He left his wife and three small children with very few financial resources and debt from medical expenses. Sadly, her daughter-in-law succumbed to depression and took her own life. With three grandchildren under the age of five to care for, her husband has returned to work and she is suddenly raising a family all over again. They simply can’t keep a roof over their heads, feed these extra mouths and manage expenses that come with children on her social security check and her husband’s small income.

What do you see as the most pressing food-related challenges for the Buffalo community?

It is remarkable that in 2018, in this land of plenty, that we even speak to the heartbreaking issues of food-related challenges. Yet our neighbors in every zip code go hungry each day. Some of the biggest challenges are food deserts and limited transportation that prevent access to fresh, healthy foods; and money and mobility which keeps people young and old from accessing food stores and pantries. Also, food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum. Until we address the root causes of hunger, we can’t end or shorten the line of people in need of food assistance.

What are the newest initiatives for the Food Bank?

We continue to expand our Direct Delivery Program, which distributes food directly to our partner agencies, relieving them of the costly, laborious transportation process, improving food safety and allowing them to order more food. After years of success operating in Erie and Chautauqua counties, we launched direct delivery in Cattaraugus County last May and will expand to Niagara County by the end of this year.

We continue to improve our Mobile Food Pantry and support like our BackPack Program, which provides elementary school students in need with food to take home on the weekends.

What are you personally most thankful for?

Hands-down, I am most thankful for my family and the friends I love like family. I am blessed to always have been surrounded by love in my life.

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