New Hampshire Food Bank fights hunger from all angles

Imagine having to choose between paying rent, paying for utilities, buying medication for your family – and buying food. For many, those choices are unimaginable, but for thousands of New Hampshire residents, it’s a reality they face every day.

At the New Hampshire Food Bank, we face that reality every day too.

As New Hampshire’s only food bank, we are uniquely positioned to fight back against hunger in our state. We distribute millions of pounds of food each year to more than 400 partner agencies statewide. But it’s not just about delivering food; we’re not just sending canned goods to the local food pantry and walking away.

Our job is to wage a battle on hunger from all angles by leveraging our unrivaled network of partners, donors, other nonprofits and government agencies to deliver, yes, food, and an ever-expanding array of strategic programming and resources designed to fight the root causes of hunger. No other agency, business or organization is tackling hunger on all fronts like the New Hampshire Food Bank.

We train those in need for careers in the culinary industry through our Recipe For Success – Culinary Job Training Program. We provide meals to Boys and Girls Clubs to serve to club members and their families as a supplement to free and reduced lunches at school. We are also a sponsor for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Summer Food Service Program in northern New Hampshire providing meals to kids in the summer months when they don’t have access to free and reduced lunches. We connect people with federal SNAP (food stamp) benefits and show them how to amplify benefits when used on fresh fruit and vegetables through our Granite State Market Match and Double Up Food Bucks programs.

We provide direct, local access to nutritious food through our Mobile Food Pantry program. We offer partner agencies the tools, guidance and food they need to fight hunger in their own backyards. And we’re reducing costs for our partners by eliminating shared maintenance fees, saving partner agencies a combined $400,000 each year. The list goes on.

We’re doing all that as the need continues to rise.

The COVID-19 pandemic, steadily rising costs due to inflation, and fluctuating unemployment rates have brought extraordinary stress on individuals and families. It’s left more people food insecure, meaning they no longer have access to the nutritious foods they need to lead a healthy life.

The numbers speak for themselves. New Hampshire experienced an estimated 55% increase in food insecurity over the last two years. Nationally, the situation is even more dire. In just two years, the national rate of food insecurity increased from the lowest it had been in 20 years, to one of the highest in 2021, according to Feeding America, which estimates 42 million people or one in eight people experienced food insecurity last year. In New Hampshire, an estimated one in nine people, including 12% of children, struggle with food insecurity.

These are your neighbors, your friends and your colleagues.

To fight back against hunger now, we’re constantly finding ways to enhance, expand upon and strengthen our robust programming to ensure we are fighting hunger in innovative ways.

In 2020, we partnered with the New Hampshire Food Alliance, New Hampshire Farm Bureau and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire (NOFA-NH) to launch ‘NH Feeding NH,’ an initiative designed to support the purchase of food from New Hampshire farmers to feed our food insecure neighbors with locally grown produce, meat, and dairy. During our first year, 170 farms participated in this program, providing nearly 40,000 pounds of food.

Historically, we held mobile food pantries about once per month, bringing truckloads of food to distribute to families and individuals right in their communities. To address the growing need, we dramatically increased the frequency, holding more than 200 mobile food pantries statewide over the last two years.

Our Recipe for Success Culinary Job Training Program is an eight-week course that empowers students with the skills and experience necessary to seek employment in the food service and hospitality industries. Recently, we became the first New Hampshire culinary job training program to receive accreditation from the Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF), the largest professional culinary organization in North America.

We stare down hunger each day from all sides. That’s not just a catchy slogan. We stare down hunger with an approach that is comprehensive, strategic and tireless.

To learn more about how we’re creating systemic change in the fight against hunger in New Hampshire, visit: https://nhfoodbank.org/.

Eileen Liponis is executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank.