Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles speaks about the Feed Kentucky program during the Commissioner’s Hunger Listening Tour stop on Wednesday at the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Office.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles brought his Hunger Listening Tour to the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Office on Wednesday to hear from agencies about food insecurity and the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quarles said he’s not looking for a “one-size-fits-all” food program, which is why his tour is taking him from the eastern to the western parts of the state.

“Kentucky is a regional state and we want to make sure we pick up on regional needs and differences,” said Quarles, who has already visited Glasgow and Hazard for this tour.

Quarles said he’s looking at food insecurity policies and local food systems that were tested during the pandemic.

“Now that we’re coming out of COVID, we’re trying to figure out what works and what needs improvement,” Quarles said.

According to Quarles, Kentucky saw a 30% increase in people using food banks in 2020.

Quarles added that the strain placed on food banks has carried over into this year, creating three major needs — monetary donations, food donations and volunteers.

“…Many of whom had never stepped foot in a food bank in their lives; they just needed a little extra help,” he said. “And that need is still strong today. There’s a misconception that just because restrictions have been lifted that the need for helping food banks has diminished as well. It’s the exact opposite.”

Glenn Roberts, executive director of Tri-State Food Bank, also spoke to the crowd about his agency’s needs and how it adapted to COVID.

Tri-State Food Bank is based out of Evansville and serves a combined 33 counties in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. The Kentucky counties and communities include Daviess, McLean, Crittenden, Hopkins, Union and Webster counties, and Livingston in Rockcastle County.

Roberts said Tri-State Food Bank had been doing mobile food distributions prior to COVID but converted over to contactless drive-thrus with its mobile units.

“We would purchase prepacked boxes of nonperishable goods, supplementing it with some fruit,” he said.

According to Roberts, it costs $3,000 to feed 150 families.

“It’s expensive but it goes a long way,” he said.

For Quarles, he said the school systems’ summer feeding sites were among the biggest successes of the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, Quarles said the federal law prohibited the meals from being taken off feeding sites.

“Right now, we’re operating underneath a waiver,” Quarles said. “It used to be, if you passed out meals to kids during the summer, you actually had to watch them eat it and they had to sit in group settings and couldn’t deviate from that.”

According to Quarles, there’s a push to make the waiver permanent.

“A good thing coming out of this is that now you can hand that meal to a kid; they can take it home; they can eat it there and you can keep moving,” Quarles said. “And we think that can be a piece of federal policy that can change.”

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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