Oregon: Food banks prepare in case of shortages

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Food banks prepare in case of shortages Emergency agencies are collecting extra supplies and money in case grocery stores have distribution problems

Wednesday, June 2, 1999

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- By Siobhan Loughran of The Oregonian staff

Remember the fable about the ant and the grasshopper? The tale comes to mind when thinking about storing food in case of Y2K computer problems.

Some of us are like the grasshopper, without a care in the world. Regardless of whether some computers might falter because of a programming glitch that could make them unable to recognize 2000 as a valid year, food will be as easily accessible as a trip to your local grocery store. Won't it?

That's not what you believe if you're like the industrious little ant. You fear the worst may happen: Computer failures could cripple the food delivery system worldwide. And even if they don't, it only makes sense to be prepared. That's why you're stocking your pantry with canned food, extra water and dried food such as beans and wheat. Maybe you've even given in to the ad campaigns for a two- or three-month supply of Meals Ready to Eat. (Think ham in barbecue sauce that just needs to be rehydrated.)

For information

Oregon Food Bank, 2540 N.E. Riverside Way, Portland, 503-282-0555, fax number 282-0922, e-mail address oregonfoodbank.org. Operators can direct you to the nearest food pantry for donations. American Red Cross, Oregon Trail Chapter, 3131 N. Vancouver Ave.; 284-0011, Ext. 194, recommends keeping enough emergency supplies on hand for at least 72 hours. At the end of its recorded telephone message, you can request a 16-page brochure that includes checklists for a first-aid kit and emergency supplies (sanitation, cooking, tools and storage). The agency's Web site is http://www.redcross.org.

Oregon State University Extension Service experts can answer questions about food storage. Clackamas County Office, 200 Warner-Milne Road, Oregon City, 655-8631; Multnomah County, 211 S.E. 80th Ave., 725-2000; Washington County, 18640 N.W. Walker Road, Suite 1400, Beaverton, 725-2300.

What do the experts advise? From the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the American Red Cross to local government bodies, the best advice is to be prepared for any emergency, be it flood, windstorm, earthquake or disruptions caused by Y2K.

But what about the folks who don't prepare for a food emergency because they can't afford to or are just unable to? The Oregon Food Bank is an organization hungry people have long been able to count on for help. Its mission is to eliminate hunger and its root causes.

And, according to spokeswoman Amy Stork, the food bank is taking a long, hard look at Y2K and the food supply problems it might bring.

Industry takes risk seriously The food industry, according to its literature, is taking the possibility of disruptions in the food supply line quite seriously.

Food manufacturers such as Nestle and Kraft have devoted loads of time and money to making sure their operations are Y2K-compliant.

In the latest issue of Food Processing magazine, the Grocery Manufacturers of America are upbeat about their readiness to deal with any Y2K glitches. Even smaller local companies, such as the Tillamook County Creamery Association, have spent big bucks updating their equipment.

But food manufacturers, who've dealt with their own compliance issues, are voicing concerns that utilities such as phone companies and electric and water providers are providing less-than-satisfactory responses to their Y2K compliance questions.

Problems with utilities or the transportation industry could affect food distribution.

That's why it only makes sense to be prepared, emergency officials say. For most people it's not that hard to set aside provisions of food and water for 72 hours, as recommended by the Red Cross, or even the two weeks' worth of supplies FEMA suggests in the event of any emergency.

But some people may be reliant on emergency food help. That's where the food bank comes in.

In Portland, all of the Oregon Food Bank's systems are Y2K-compliant. Its inventory systems also check out healthy for any surprises a millennium bug might bring.

And, Stork said, the food bank is working on its member networks to make sure they will be well prepared to handle any increase in demand after Jan. 1, 2000. Many of their pantries are such basic operations that they don't even use computers.

"It's a struggle to get some of them a fax machine," Stork said. "And as long as the phones are in working order, we can get food to them."

Food banks should be stocked Because the millennium falls after some pretty big holidays when donations are traditionally high, she pointed out, most food banks will be fairly well stocked. They may not get a lot of donations during January and February, but the pantries have learned to hold over the surplus so they can stagger their donations during the leaner months.

Second Harvest, the national food bank affiliate for Oregon, has pledged to help disaster efforts throughout the state. Remember the winter floods of 1996? Oregon Food Bank distributed 500,000 pounds of food to agencies with the help of community partners such as the Teamsters, thanks to support from Second Harvest.

But Second Harvest also needed to deal with natural disasters, such as hurricanes, nationwide. So the agency's large emergency food fund has been depleted, and Oregon's emergency food fund also is low.

As a result, the Oregon Food Bank is preparing a disaster fund that will deal with food and water shortages that might arise in January. The goal is to not allow the Y2K response to interfere with the food bank's regular food distribution.

The agency is soliciting emergency funds through its newsletter and will welcome contributions.

So let's say you're of the ant persuasion and socked away a few hundred-pound sacks of wheat berries and a couple months' supply of dehydrated foods, beans and other items. The new millennium dawns with nary a hiccup, and your closet space is taken up with bundles of food you know you'll never use in the coming year.

Can you donate that food to the food bank or your local food pantry? The answer is a resounding yes, Stork said.

She suggests people call the food bank to get information about which food pantries in the area need donations. Or, take your donations directly to the food bank. Donations will be welcomed and, best of all, used.

-- Arlin H. Adams (ahadams@ix.netcom.com), June 03, 1999

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