USDA launches drive to encourage federal employees to give to food banks

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There’s no shortage of bad news these days. Through it all, it’s easy to forget one of the longest-running bad news stories. The nation has too many people who are short of food. The problem has gotten worse in the economic downturn. Just ask any food bank. But you can help. This week, the Agriculture Department launched its annual Feds Feed Families national food drive. The drive’s national chair Lavinia Panizo joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin for the details.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Panizo, good to have you on.

Lavinia Panizo: Thank you so much, Tom. I appreciate you inviting me.

Tom Temin: So tell us about this program. I think it’s in its 11th year and what is the goal of this program from USDA?

Lavinia Panizo: Well, that’s correct. Actually, this year USDA is the designated agency carrying out the program. But Feds Feed Families is a federalwide program. It actually invites all federal employees to participate and Feds Feed Families is a voluntary program that encourages employees to donate to food banks and food pantries. This year, we launched the new Feds Feed Families hub, which is a website where federal employees can learn how to get involved.

Tom Temin: Got it. And what types of food should people donate, and how do they go about donating it?

Lavinia Panizo: So there are some commonly donated items that food banks seek. So, maybe proteins such as tuna or beans. They also looked for grains and breads, flours, any shelf-stable items, and you can also glean in certain situations if that’s something that you’re comfortable with, which is going to a farm and helping to collect unharvested produce, perishable donations.

Tom Temin: Sure that’s right out of the Book of Leviticus. It tells farmers to leave the gleanings for the poor, Chapter 19, if I recall correctly.

Lavinia Panizo: Yes.

Tom Temin: All right. And so, now, people cannot bring donations. So, you have some cans of good beans you want to bring in or something like that–you can’t bring them to the office these days. So how does this all work in the age of pandemic?

Lavinia Panizo: So, that’s a great point. One of the things that we’re doing this year is we’re actually encouraging virtual food drive events. And that’s where folks convene, and they might have an organization at the local level come and talk about the issues related to hunger in the community, and it’s a way to learn about what issues of hunger exist, and also what you can do to help alleviate those issues. You can also donate online. You can purchase food via your favorite online grocer and have it delivered directly to a food bank or pantry or you can make a monetary donation to a food pantry or food bank, and then record your donation on the Feds Feed Famlies hub. You can also give through the Combined Federal Campaign. This year, CFC is running a special solicitation through June 30. And you can actually make your donation a twofer. So you can give through CFC to a food bank or food pantry and then you can come to the hub and you can record your donation on the hub. In addition, you can drop off donations at your local food pantry or food bank. You can also perhaps, plant a row, where you plant a row in your garden and donate the excess non-perishable produce to a local food bank or food pantry. There are a lot of ways that you can donate. But what you’ll want to do is you’ll want to kind of check in advance. Due to some of the current situation in the country, you will want to reach out to your local food bank or food pantry, whether it’s checking out their website or giving them a call, to find out what kinds of donations they are accepting.

Tom Temin: And does the drive, the Feds Feed Families program have a list online of local food banks throughout the country so you can find out where you might want to donate?

Lavinia Panizo: So, what we have is links to organizations that have information about finding local food banks and food pantries. But, really, any quick search on your search engine will bring those up. If you just search local food banks or food pantries near me, those tools come up pretty readily.

Tom Temin: If someone makes a donation on behalf of the Feds Feed Families program, how does it get recorded if they just go directly to that food bank?

Lavinia Panizo: Feds Feed Families does not actually collect any kind of donations physically. What we do is, is we encourage employees to get involved in hunger issues in their communities. And then once they do that, they come to the hub and they record their donations. And it’s actually pretty cool, because when you’re on the hub, you can see how every contribution made by a federal employee contributes towards alleviating hunger. We actually have a calculator that shows–when you enter your donation, you’ll see in real time that number go up. And so it’s really a way to just be part of something that’s greater than yourself. It’s a way to connect with your other federal employees and really make an impact together. A lot of us are called to service. We want to be able to do something good for our communities. And this is one way to do it and do it and be part of the federal family. But it’s something that you can also do on your own time.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Vinnie Panizo. She is national chair of the Agriculture Department’s, really the federal government’s, Feds Feed Families program for 2020, the food drive. And what are the goals? Do you measure it in calories delivered, tonnage, dollar value, or what?

Lavinia Panizo: That’s a great question. So, at Feds Feed Families, we actually measure donations in the form of pounds. So, any donation you do, whether it’s time or in the form of monetary donations directly to a food bank or pantry, or dropping off donations, everything eventually is captured or converted into pounds.

Tom Temin: And what are the food banks and the recipients telling you? Do you have a sense of the state that they’re in this year? Because the ones I’ve spoken to personally are really in a lot of stress right now because of the increase in demand from the downturn in the economy.

Lavinia Panizo: Well, I think that we’ve all seen it on the news, and Feds Feed Families is a great way to actually try and contribute to what’s going on in the larger society. But what we can do together is get involved in alleviating hunger. If you check out the Feds Feed Families hub site, you can actually learn all of the different ways that you can get involved in your community to alleviate hunger.

Tom Temin: All right, and we’ll post that website at when we post this interview. And by the way, Vinnie, what do you do when you’re not chairing the food drive? You’ve got a regular day job, too, don’t you?

Lavinia Panizo: I do. I’ve worked at USDA for 12 years, and I’m a program manager there in their special initiatives division.

Tom Temin: Got it. So, you are a committed fed and committed to helping people. What got you interested in Feds Feed Families?

Lavinia Panizo: Well, I was asked to do it, and I thought it was a great opportunity. One of the things that’s been really exciting about working on Feds Feed Families is that I get to work with people from all federal departments. I get calls from HHS, from, Department of Homeland Security, different agencies within these departments, the federal executive board, it’s really neat to get to talk to and work with my colleagues across the federal sector.

Tom Temin: You know, if you’re not careful, they could end up tapping you to run the CFC during the winter Christmas season.

Lavinia Panizo: Well, I don’t know about that. But I will say that we’re really excited that we are able to partner and collaborate with CFC and one of the cool things about the hub is that while we have a big push during the summer months, you are also able to continue to give to issues to alleviate hunger year-round. So, during CFC campaign, they usually have a hunger week and during that hunger week, if you decide to give to hunger issues, you can also record your donations to the Feds Feed Families hub.

Tom Temin: All right. Well, let’s all get out and do that. Vinnie Panizo is national chair of the Agriculture Department’s Feds Feed Families 2020 Food Drive. Thanks so much for joining me.

Lavinia Panizo: Thank you so much, Tom. I really appreciate you inviting me on the show.

More on the drive here.

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