KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) – Vaccinations can slow the spread of COVID-19, but not the spread of hunger. Many people are still struggling with lost or reduced paychecks as the year-long pandemic drags on.
Thanks to Dick Cochran, Founder and President of Hot Meals USA, the US Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families nutrition program supports hungry people. The program is part of a $ 3 billion effort to distribute surplus produce, dairy and meat products to people with unsafe food.
Cars drove slowly into the Ag building on the Buffalo County Fairgrounds last week and stopped as volunteers loaded free boxes of groceries into their suitcases. People got as many boxes as they wanted.
No ID was required. No questions were asked.
The Kearney Hub reports that scenes like this have been repeated weekly since Cochran found out about the program in June last year and offered to oversee the distribution of the food here.
Cochran now puts in 40-60 unpaid hours a week, not just in Nebraska but in six other states. Much of his time is spent coordinating deliveries with the seller who the groceries came from.
“We’re talking about the location. We need to have a good flow of traffic and cover all the little details. Then we plan the semis so that it comes, ”he said.
Currently, Cochran works with the Liberty Food Company in Kansas City, but that may change. He has also worked with companies in Iowa and Kansas, and Cash-Wa in Kearney.
Deliveries are made in either a 48 foot semi with 960 crates of food and 960 gallons of milk or a 53 foot semi with 1,200 crates of food and 1,200 crates of milk.
Last week, 1,200 boxes of groceries arrived in Kearney from a supplier in Kansas City. Kyla Martin, an administrator who manages community projects for the Community Action Partnership in Mid-Nebraska, has received 300 more boxes of groceries from Cash-Wa. On Thursday, she and volunteers gave it away on the exhibition grounds.
Each box contained canned food, chicken, hot dogs, apples, Colby Jack cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and more. “And just in time for St. Paddy’s Day, red baby potatoes,” said Martin.
The efforts of Cochran and volunteers have helped deliver 625 box-laden semis to people in Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. They helped feed more than 750,000 families with food problems during the pandemic.
“We deliver from Scottsbluff to Omaha and many places in between. Imagine 48 semis, each with 1,200 boxes of groceries and 1,200 gallons of milk. That is 57,600 families who are getting enough food for 20 meals and 57,600 gallons of milk. That’s 1,152,000 meals that won’t go to people with food problems until February, ”he said.
He worked hard getting a truck to Scottsbluff.
“They had never received food boxes from the USDA because of their location,” said Cochran. “The pantries in Nebraska are covered in Lincoln and Omaha, but after Lincoln they don’t know the rest of the state exists.”
He’s working on a plan to bring groceries to Texas shortly. Earlier this month, the federal government estimated that 56% of that state’s population had been affected by food because of the disaster, he said.
“We’ll never feed them all, but if we swing that we could feed 120,000 families a week. That’s 2,400,000 meals a week, ”he said. So far he has 1,200 volunteers ready to help through service clubs and other groups.
“Yes, I’m scared to death of it. Maybe I’m not smart enough to know that there is a reason no one has done this yet, but if we don’t try, it would be worse. So it’s in full swing, ”he said
The food is distributed every week in Kearney. So far it will last until March and last until the end of June, the first anniversary of the start of the program. The food was also delivered to Lexington.
“This program has taken on a life of its own. It was a real blessing, ”said Cochran. “With no buildings or staff, we’ve grown to become the largest food distributor in the state. It’s all done with volunteers and lots of prayers. “