Our Response to the President’s Letter in Farmers to Families Boxes
By Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
October 9, 2020
COVID-19 has increased the demand for food assistance across the country, by as much as 60% in some regions. On April 17, in an effort to provide additional food to those in need, the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program was implemented as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Through this program, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is partnering with national, regional and local distributors to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat products. The distributors package these products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks and other community organizations and non-profits serving those in need.
Under the terms of the contract with the distributors, the federal government has required that these USDA boxes include a letter on White House letterhead from President Trump. To reiterate, these letters are inserted by the distributors, NOT Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
As a 501 (c) (3) organization, the IRS states we (the Food Bank) are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Under these circumstances, we are confident that taking no action on these letters is the proper course of action and does not endanger our tax-exempt status.
The Food Bank is a nonpartisan organization and, the fact that we are redistributing Farmers to Families boxes containing a letter from the White House does not imply any political beliefs of the Food Bank. Our food pantry partners are welcome to keep or remove the letter from the food boxes per their discretion and preference. The Food Bank has made the decision to continue participating in this program as part of our mission and commitment to doing all we can to connect community members in need with access to nutritious food.
Furthermore, as a practical matter, the Food Bank does not wish to direct staff and volunteers to expend valuable time and energy critical to our mission and have them unsealing and resealing boxes to remove these letters. We believe those receiving these boxes and reading the letter are able to determine for themselves the value and purpose of the message.
President and CEO
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank