Food bank cuts back after contract ends

CEO says food will still be distributed in Northeast Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A major food bank has closed down its sharing floor this month, which means hundreds of agencies will no longer get to shop for food as they please.

The Nourishment Network, which used to be the Second Harvest Foodbank, has been operating for more than 35 years. But when the organization's contract with the United States Department of Agriculture ended Sept. 30, it had to not only cut the sharing floor but also employees.

Wayne Rieley, CEO of Nourishment Network, said the amount of food that will come into North Florida will remain the same, but hundreds of other agencies may be receiving their food a different way.

"At this point in time, what we have is fresh farm products -- veggies, fruits and so forth -- and some bakery and dairy products, so we'll be packaging those up for the agencies to come by and pick up without having to shop," Rieley said.

Nourishment Network has been serving more than 370 agencies for more than three decades, but when the contract ended, a food fight broke out, Rieley said.

The Department of Agriculture allowed agencies to bid in August to pick up the contract to distribute food in 17 counties in North Florida.

The Nourishment Network, as well as its partner, Farm Share, along with Second Harvest Foodbank of Central Florida put bids in to do that work. 

The department put out the results last week and determined that six of the counties would be served by Farm Share and 11 would be served by Second Harvest Foodbank of Central Florida.

But Rieley said Second Harvest didn't agree.

"Second Harvest has filed an intention to protest that and now the department is trying to figure out how they will get that resolved," Rieley said.

And in the meantime, Rieley said the Nourishment Network food bank has to do some restructuring of the sharing floor and cut staff.

"It requires more staff to be able to man a sharing floor to allow agencies to come in and wander through and pick and choose what they want to do," Rieley said.

And now with its new partner, Farm Share, Rieley said the Nourishment Network will be able to get more produce into the hands that need it.

"The food is going to be there," Rieley said. "Right now, it's just a matter of who is going to be distributing the food, but the food pantries that depend on us to deliver to families in need need to be assured that the food is going to be there."