It’s not easy to keep up with the 450 Rim Country families that need food bank assistance — but add on a bunch of rules and data gathering and the workload piles up.
“Our little food bank gets about 136,000 pounds of food a year,” said John Imbornoni, the United Food Bank coordinator for the Presbyterian Food Pantry.
He has spent the last year working to comply with added requests for compliance from Congress.
It’s been a long haul.
“The big boys want accountability ... (say) you are a government official, they’re saying ‘We’re passing the Farm Bill and we have clamped down on the food stamp people,’ but we’re pumping out $10 to $20 million in Arizona for St. Mary’s and United Food Bank,” said Imbornoni. “They ask, ‘Where is that going in Arizona?’ — this accountability for those mega bucks is kinda new. It’s a 2018 thing.”
As the guy who handles all logistics for the Presbyterian Food Pantry, it fell on him to follow the federal guidelines to bring the organization into compliance.
“All volunteers have to have civil rights training (and they) need a food handling certificate,” he said. “We also have vetting — we call it self-certification.”
It’s this self-certification process that has many up in arms.
Imbornoni said the federal government now requires all those using any food bank to fill out an application form with their name, birth date, gender, marital status, ethnicity and whether or not they are pregnant, nursing, disabled or receiving help from other sources, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Service Program or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
Clients can also disclose their living situation.
“We look to see if people are homeless, then we try to match their needs,” he said. “Are they housing challenged and can’t use a kitchen?”
These questions might seem intrusive on the outside, but Imbornoni said it helps the food bank volunteers steer clients to the best help they can.
“We’re not a punitive bunch of people,” he said. “Rather we’re trying to help people get the help they need.”
Take this situation as an example. If a client can’t use a kitchen, then giving them a bag of dried beans won’t help. Instead, cans of beans work best.
The information gathered goes into a software database called Link 2 Feed. This program is used not only nationally, but internationally.
“You can go to an agency in another city, as long it’s another United Food Bank system,” he said. “It is a statewide system. All you really have to do is walk in and say, ‘Hey, it’s been two weeks and I’m down here helping my grandma,’ they’ll get you food.”
Imbornoni said this new intake program has positives and negatives.
The most challenging part? Finding enough volunteers to make sure clients fill out the paperwork completely.
The next most challenging part? Finding volunteers to do the data entry.
“A new set of volunteers is needed (to help with the) application, set up, and then data entry,” he said. “In order to handle live intake we need to train them.”
On the positive side, the new data entry system has enabled the food pantry to present data on who the typical client is, where they live, what their family and living situation entails.
“All this compliance that they wanted done made the effort more professional,” said Imbornoni.