Flickr/Slimfast
Some of the country's largest producers and processors are sending hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to Texas.

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As post-Hurricane Harvey efforts shift from rescue and damage assessment to recovery and relief, big food companies are doing what big food companies do: feed people. And their emergency provisions and disaster relief programs appear to be as varied as victims of the flooding.

Global Meat News reports that some of the country’s largest processors and producers are contributing protein and animal feed. Agri-giant Cargill, for example, “has provided three million servings of ground beef, hot dogs and deli meats” as well as 300,000 pounds of animal feed. Poultry and pork producer Perdue Farms says it has committed to donating “at least one million pounds of protein” and 68,000 pounds of dry dog food. Perhaps slightly less appealing but no less necessary is Hormel Foods’ offering of “protein-rich food items” like SPAM, tinned chile con carne, and peanut butter.

SlimFast aims to provide Houston’s displaced residents with 75,000 180-calorie ready-to-drink “meal” shakes and 75,000 100-calorie chips and cookie snacks.

Relief agencies like food banks are typically designated as distribution hubs for emergency supply deliveries, while organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army often serve as coordinators and project managers.

Multinational meat company Tyson Foods on Friday began distributing hot meals from a cook site it set up in the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Conroe, Texas, and has deployed its Meals that Matter mobile relief truck, which can cold store as much as 100,000 pounds of protein. Tyson also works with Team Rubicon, a relief partner comprised of military veterans with expertise in logistics. The group has deployed its mobile command center (donated by Tyson in 2014), a 53-foot semi-trailer that provides sleeping quarters, connectivity, and office space.

“With nearly 12,000 team members throughout the state of Texas and a facility in Houston, the damage left by Hurricane Harvey hits close to home,” says Debra Vernon, Tyson’s senior director of corporate social responsibility, in a press release.

Meanwhile, to the north, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (funded by dairy farmers) put out a call for donations—and the response, it said, was “overwhelming.” In Madison, Wisconsin on Friday, marketing board employees, along with dairy farmers and cheese company employees, packed a truck with 20,000 pounds of product, from smoked string cheese to cheese curds to butter. It is expected to arrive at the Houston Food Bank this week.

While not a big food company but certainly a big agency, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Friday its disaster nutrition assistance program, which includes provisions for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”). Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said all SNAP state agencies nationwide could choose between “using the program’s expedited service provisions or offering evacuees two months of disaster benefits using streamlined program procedures under a special Evacuee Policy designed in response to Hurricane Harvey.”

The evacuee policy applies to anyone living in a county during the storm that received a presidential disaster declaration for individual assistance, as well as anyone who did not receive August 2017 SNAP benefits and evacuated to another state that chooses to apply the policy. Eligible households will receive two months of benefits on an EBT card.

Also on Friday, USDA granted the state of Texas a series of waivers allowing the 29 disaster-affected counties to work around the usual SNAP requirements, including the 10-day reporting requirement for replacement of food purchased with August 2017 SNAP benefits. In addition, all August SNAP benefits will be restored en masse so that recipients can replace food they purchased but then lost to flooding. And USDA also approved the state’s hot foods’ waiver request, which will allow recipients to purchase hot foods and hot food products prepared for immediate consumption with their benefits at authorized SNAP retailers statewide through the end of the month.

The agency also approved the Houston Independent School District’s waiver request to allow it to serve free breakfast and lunch to the district’s 218,000 students through September 30.

Then there’s this somewhat unexpected donation from meal replacement company SlimFast: The company aims to provide the region’s estimated 30,000 displaced residents with 75,000 180-calorie ready-to-drink “meal” shakes and 75,000 100-calorie chips and cookie snacks. Of course, you’d probably need more than the recommended two of those a day if you were, for example, hauling drywall and siphoning flood water out of your basement into your swimming pool.

But every little bit helps.

Kate Cox

Kate Cox is The New Food Economy's editor. In her former life, she was a freelance health policy reporter for radio and text. @thekatecox . Reach her by email at: kate.cox@newfoodeconomy.org.

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