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Three million dollars in coronavirus relief funding could soon be coming to food banks in Orange County as they prepare for an expected shortfall of food.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel announced at a Thursday news conference that she and fellow supervisors will be voting Tuesday to extend an agreement supporting local food banks.

“As we continue to navigate this crisis it is vital that the county has all the resources it needs to assist those most negatively impacted by the economic impacts caused by the state lockdown,” she said.

The money will be used to get food to pantries throughout the county that are giving it out for free to anyone in need.

Steel’s announcement came on the heels of the Voice of OC reporting on the food deficiency expected to hit the county next month as unemployment remains high and government aid for food banks winds down.

“This certainly would help us mitigate that food cliff in a big way,” said Harald Herrmann, chief executive officer of the Second Harvest Food Bank. “That’s a lot of money and that’s a lot of support. The community needs it today and we would be extremely grateful to be able to receive those funds.”

In May, county officials unanimously approved an initial $3 million for Second Harvest and the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. The OC Food Bank is a subsidiary of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. 

Herrmann said the money was earmarked to be spent through October, adding that the funds equated to 40,000 boxes of a two-week supplement of food for each nonprofit. He said every dollar Second Harvest received was spent on food.

“We’ve been actively pushing those boxes out into the community since the program started and would certainly welcome the extension,” he said.

Around that time, a federal program launched delivering U.S. Department of Agriculture food shipments to food banks and pantries around the county. Multiple pantries have been using the program as a source for getting food.

But that program — now in its third phase — is providing less food than it use to, food bank and pantry leaders have told the Voice of OC. 

“Phase two and phase one provided a lot more options and food variations for families versus now in phase three, everything is combined into one box and the boxes are bigger, they’re also heavier. There’s also a lesser amount of boxes that come on a pallet,” Andre Roberson, the executive director of the Power of One Foundation, a nonprofit that holds food distributions, said in a recent interview. 

Second Harvest’s Herrmann said the program itself will come to an end by November.

The food bank operated off its own fundraising for months at the start of the pandemic before it got government aid. To prepare for a shortfall, it has been buying food and raising money.

Herrmann said the announcement of the impending Board of Supervisors’ vote does not change the nonprofit’s fundraising goals because they’re looking at the long term but if approved, it would be significant for them. He added that he would coordinate with the Orange County Food Bank on how they would use the money but said it probably would go toward food boxes.

Many food pantries cannot operate as they used to and are becoming dependent on receiving prepackaged food boxes that they can distribute through a drive through.

“If we can maintain a box format, they’re able to stay in business, they’re able to keep their doors open, and provide food to those in need. This transition to a box format is critical,” Herrmann said.

Click here to donate to Second Harvest and here to donate to the Community Action Partnership of Orange County.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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