July 08, 2010

Senator Gillibrand Tours Southern Tier Food Bank In Elmira, Joins Local Youth Volunteers Packing Backpacks Of Fresh, Local Foods

Backpack Program Provides 1,220 Children Throughout 19 School Districts With Nutritious, Child-Friendly Packs Of Food To Take Home On Weekends And Breaks

Elmira, NY - As Congress debates the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today toured the Food Bank of the Southern Tier in Elmira and joined local youth participating in the BackPack program. As the first New York Senator in 40 years to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Gillibrand is playing a leading role in improving the health of children and helping farmers in this difficult economy.

“The BackPack Program is a clear example of a program that works, providing students with healthy meals during summer break and throughout the year,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Not only do we need to ensure this program can expand, but we must replicate it in other communities. We must pursue an aggressive strategy to tackle childhood obesity. If our children are going to have the opportunity to reach their potential, they need a healthy start. I will fight in Congress to make sure New York students have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

“The unfortunate reality is that nearly 35,000 children across the Southern Tier rely on free or reduced price meals during the school year.  For those low and moderate income families, summer break poses a real challenge as they struggle to fill in those gaps. It’s critical that we as a community do our best to provide children in need over the summer with nutritious meals so they can come back to school happy, healthy and ready to learn.” said Natasha Thompson, Food Bank President & CEO.  “We’re so pleased to know that Senator Gillibrand understands this critical problem and supports our efforts in the fight against child hunger.  No child should go hungry and Senator Gillibrand is a terrific advocate for increasing awareness about the issue of child hunger not only in New York State but across the US.”

Over the last five years, the Food Bank of the Southern Tier has responded to a 59 percent increase in the number of individuals requesting their services annually. In 2009, they acquired and distributed 6.8 million pounds of food – operating at 36 percent over the facilities capacity. In fact, they have distributed food in excess of the warehouse’s 5 million pound capacity since 2006. Although they have been able to push the facility limits beyond capacity and increase output by 24 percent over the last two years, they cannot come close to meeting the area’s actual needs for hunger-relief services at the current location.

From her seat on the Committee, Senator Gillibrand is working to secure federal funds for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. This project would help purchase a 65,000 square-foot warehouse that will serve as the primary storage and production space for the food bank. This warehouse would allow for the food bank to reach its goal of distributing 16 million pounds of food per year, meeting the region’s growing needs for services.

In addition, the federal funding would help expand the BackPack Program, which provides approximately 1,220 children throughout 19 school districts with nutritious, child-friendly packs of food to take home on weekends and holiday breaks. While the program has grown tremendously since its launch in 2005, next school year the program will not be growing due to the moratorium on expansion that has been imposed on the program because of space constrictions. There are 42 school districts in their service area and more than