By Holly Crocco
The Town of Kent is hoping to enlist the help of Cornell Cooperative Extension-Putnam County in using American Recovery Plan Act funds to implement a program that will make sure those in town who need food assistance don’t go without.
According to Ruby Koch-Fienberg, agriculture and food systems coordinator for CCE-Putnam County, the needs in Kent are not much different from the needs felt across the county.
During the April 11 Kent Town Board meeting, she explained that a survey conducted in 2020 as part of a USDA Community Food Planning Grant application indicated that increasing cold storage capacity, increasing the ability to distribute food, and working directly with farmers to provide produce to emergency food providers are areas in need of improvement.
“What the planning grant identified were three different focus areas for us to really look at as a county,” she said.
When it comes to Kent, specifically, a prior proposal noted that 36 percent of town residents have been identified by the United Way of Westchester and Putnam as “ALICE households” (asset limited, income constrained, employed), and in need food security assistance that they are currently not accessing.
In addition, the town needs the infrastructure to accommodate cold food storage, and has a need for administrative capacity to build a food system network.
“These are the major key points where we can come in,” explained Koch-Fienberg.
The first phase of the program would be to identify households that need food security assistance, and reaching them through direct mailing, targeted advertising and local community organizations.
The second phase would be to invest in cold storage capacity. “That is, simply doing the capital investments and making those purchases,” said Koch-Fienberg.
The last phase would be to partner with a “meal processor,” such as Second Chance Foods, Inc., to build out a distribution network including a volunteer base.
As part of the proposal, the town is hoping to build out space in the old town hall building on Route 52 as a community center, to include cold storage and space for preparation and distribution. Until the building is renovated, it hopes to work with the library, fire department and even Casa Servir church (which already has a food pantry) to disseminate meals.
Councilman Chris Ruthven suggested the representatives from CCE work with the contractors who are drawing up plans for the new community center at the old town hall.
“You’re going to need infrastructure that is built into that building, and I think we need to make sure you’re on board in that discussion,” he said
The town may also need to adjust its timeline for meal preparation based on what is needed, versus what is a realistic expectation for the town to provide.
“The initial application mentioned 41,000 in year two,” explained Koch-Fienberg. “Just in working with Second Chance Foods, we know that is probably beyond her capacity for one year.” Therefore, plans may have to be modified.
Councilman Jorma Tompuri said he supports the program, but questioned where funding will come from once the first two years of funding runs out.
“The ARPA funding is not going to last forever, so what is the contingency plan once that ARPA funding runs out?” he asked. “My only concern is that something’s going to be passed onto the taxpayers.”
CCE-Putnam County Executive Director Stephanie Hubert said she’s confident that between the federal government, local support and other means, there will be funding to continue the program once it is established.
“I think that for something as humane as feeding the community, oftentimes we do see that when seed money runs out, the community comes together, whether it’s through donations or working with farmers,” she said. “The other opportunity is that, for a small amount of money that helps feed a large population, is becoming a member so the Hudson Valley Food Bank and so for pennies on the dollar you are able to purchase buying power from the Hudson Valley Food Bank that could stock those shelves.”
Discussion on the matter is expected to continue.