Searing hot weather and the driest season in half a century has gripped the nation and has food providers like the Orange County Food Bank bracing for a huge jump in prices at grocery stores soon.
Mark Lowry expects many more families seeking help from his organization.
Already, the harsh summer has driven up the cost of oil and USDA commodities have spiked over the past year. The fallout from the heat has shriveled grains, wheat, soybean, and fields of corn are barely the size of carrots. It will be felt all the way up and down the food chain.
Coming out of the hottest July on record, scientists say the scenario is much worse than they originally thought about human-caused global warming.
“But the heat is just half the story,” said President Obama in his last weekly address. “We’re also suffering through one of the worst droughts in over 50 years. More than a fifth of this country is experiencing what we call ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought--with states like Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas getting hit harder than most.”
The President has opened more federal land for cattle to graze, and is calling on Congress to pass a farm bill that can help farmers deal with these types of disasters.
Lowry, Orange County executive director, is worried that the word on the street is to expect a 30 percent jump in food prices. The bad economy of recent years is already straining his ability to give food to local nonprofits.
For so many families living on the edge, it’s bound to get worse as this drought covers more U.S. territory than the last one in 2008.
USDA commodities are always given freely to the nonprofits, but there may not be much to give away in the months to come.
Whenever there is a surplus of food in the agricultural industry, the government buys certain overproduction, pulls quantities off the market and redistributes to those in need. When drought happens, less surplus of food not only drives up prices at the market, but also means that less food is available through the nation’s commodity program.
“We’ve already got a moratorium on accepting any new nonprofits. We have 28 on the waiting list,” Mr. Lowry said. “There’s not enough food to go around.”
For that reason, the food bank also restricts how much charities receive. Nonprofits need more, but he’s trying to spread the food around. Each year, the demand is growing as they cut back.
He said the county’s 211 information hotline is reporting that requests for emergency food have doubled during the economic downturn.
Yet, there is a point of empowerment. He said that people can call their Congressional representatives to tell them to stop planned cuts in food stamps during the nation’s worst economic crisis, and that food should take priority.
People can also hold food drives in their workplaces, at the golf clubs or associations, and bring food down to the food banks, or write a check, he said.
“This is a solvable problem,” he said. “People can weigh in on their opinions to the proposed cuts to federal nutrition programs; that’s a way that they can be impactful,” he said.
It’s hard to ignore how poverty has spread to unexpected corners of society. Then again, it depends on which street he drives down. Recently, he was in a highrise overlooking the John Wayne Airport, talking to one of his donors, who commented that the food is for “all those people in Santa Ana, right?”
Not true, he emphasizes. Some clients have chronic needs, others are ill, many are unemployed.
Not long ago, he had a tour of his facility with architects and engineers, who were amazed that Orange County could be in danger of hunger.
Mr. Lowry said that most people would be surprised to learn just how many use the food banks.
“It’s not always the homeless; it may be someone who has suffered a recent job loss. The group I just had in there was sharing that one of every three architects in Orange County is unemployed,' he said. “These are people who might have been making $150,000 when they were working.”
To host a food drive, contact 714 897‐6670 x3601 or email