Food distribution in South Dakota: a finely tuned system gets USDA food to the people who need it

Food distribution in South Dakota: a finely tuned system gets USDA food to the people who need it – U.S. Department of Agriculture

Joanne Widner

“Service” an”accountability” are key words for government managers in the 1980’s. But how successfully are the two combined? Very successfully, if you’re talking about food distribution in South Dakota.

South Dakota’s finely tuned system is a good example of how far some states have come in recent years in streamlining and modernizing their food distribution programs.

State’s size presents special challenges

State managers have done a good job of tailoring their commodity effort to the needs of the people they serve, while dealing with some special challenges.

For instance, although South Dakota’s population is small, ranking forty-fifth in the nation, the state is sixteenth in land area, measuring 240 miles north to south and 360 miles east to west.

To make it easier to coordinate food distribution across such a vast area and to maximize efficiency in other ways, state managers have consolidated responsibility for food distribution in one agency-the State Department of Education and Cultural Affairs.

DECA’s Division of Education orders food, arranges shipment to recipient agencies and sites, and contracts for storage for all South Dakota commodity programs.

It provides this service for schools, hospitals, nursing homes, halfway houses, prison rehabilitation units, senior citizens groups, summer camps, child care homes and centers, congregate feeding sites, TEFAP (Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program) sites, summer food programs, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and food distribution programs on six Indian reservations.

“Our pride is that our system is a dual one of service to recipients and accountability for the product,” says commodity supervisor Mel Feuerstein. “We know where and when everything is shipped.”

Feuerstein’s boss, Carol Axtman, director of Child and Adult Nutrition Services, says the consolidation of commodity functions has been worthwhile for several reasons. For one thing, it’s cost-effective from a management standpoint-it takes fewer people and avoids excessive interagency communication.

She also thinks having a single distributing agency for all the state’s programs saves on storage and distribution costs. “You have the advantage of negotiating large quantity contracts,” she says.

System gets food to remote areas

Axtman and Feuerstein have been the lead team in South Dakota’s commodity effort for nearly 6 years. Axtman says they are pleased to be ab”add nutrition to people’s lives that many otherwise would not have.”

Schools throughout the state use USDA-donated foods in preparing meals for school children. “Small schools especially,” says Axtman, “rely heavily on donated foods.”

The wide variety of foods South Dakota schools get from USDA-valued at more than $3.4 million last year-helps them save substantially on food costs. This is especially significant for schools in isolated areas, where food costs are generally higher than in other areas.

The state’s food distribution program on Indian reservations is also effective in serving remote areas. The program is a large one, providing nearly $5 million worth of food last year to nearly 12,000 recipients. Many of the people who get donated foods live in isolated areas not served by nearby grocery stores.

DECA staff work closely with tribal officials to make sure the program reflects the needs and preferences of the tribe. One of several techniques developed to make the program accessible is what’s called th”tailgate delivery method.” USDA commodity food packages are delivered from the tailgate of trucks to people who otherwise might not be able to participate.

Storage and distribution are carefully planned

Axtman says the operation has run smoothly the last 6 years. Contributing factors to that success include the longevity of staff, a good communications network, and implementation of inventory techniques to keep the agency from making ordering mistakes. “If something goes wrong,” she says, “we know about it before it becomes a problem.”

Feuerstein contracts for warehousing in three areas of South Dakota. The largest warehouse in Sioux Falls stores 10 million pounds of food annually and serves all of the state’s schools and many of the other program sites as well, including four reservations. Another warehouse in Aberdeen serves TEFAP sites in the state’s northeastern quadrant, and a Rapid City facility serves western TEFAP sites and the other two reservations.

The ordering system is designed to Other safeguards are also helpful

Working with area hospitals, district staff have also found ways to get WIC benefits to eligible mothers and infants within days after babies are born.

The county nurse receives information on all hospital births, and the health department is automatically notified if an infant has some special problem, like sickle cell trait, so followup can be provided.

All new mothers on WIC are contacted before they leave the hospital. They are given WIC vouchers for themselves and their babies, along with information on breastfeeding, infant nutrition, and general care. At that time, they’re also scheduled for their next appointments.

If, for some reason, the new mother doesn’t receive her vouchers before leaving the hospital, she’ll be contacted within 10 days of the birth to be sure she and the baby continue on the program.

“Making sure no one slips through the cracks is a strong concern on the part of all staff,” says Vicki Jones.

“For instance, we now have 1-year give recipient agencies as much flexibility as possible. Feuerstein orders commodities for reservations on a quarterly basis to avoid running short and schedules shipments monthly to maintain as much variety as possible. He offers schools various shipping periods to aid holding their storage costs down.

“In South Dakota,” he says, “we have an offer-and-acceptance system. We send out monthly order blanks to each agency listing what’s available. They accept what they can use. We can let them know the week of delivery and-based on past history-they usually know what day to expect it.”

Inventories stay current and balanced

Not only does the South Dakota system function like clockwork, it’s also calendar-correct. Feuerstein adheres to three dates each month. All order forms must be sent out by the 5th. They’re due back from recipient agencies by the 15th, and manifests are due in the warehouse on the 25th.

Feuerstein verifies short- and longterm shipping schedules to keep inventory in balance and uses the previous year’s orders as a guide when ordering. Semiannually, he takes inventory of recipient agencies’ stocks. Only three times in the 6 years he’s been there has he had to allocate to schools any hard-to-get-rid-of items, thanks to this efficient management system.

South Dakota may be rural, but it’s “uptown” in its procedures. Since last August, the commodity program has been “on-line” with what Feuerstein call”home-grown” mainframe computer. The system tracks commodities from ordering through distribution to recipient agencies. Ultimately, it will also produce the required reports to USDA.

The one-agency approach-with its service, accountability, and new computerized tracking system-is eminently workable for South Dakota, It helps the commodity distribution system do the job it’s supposed to-get food to people who need and can use it.

For more information, contact: Carol Axtman, Director

Child and Adult Nutrition Services

Division of Education

South Dakota Department of

Education and Cultural Affairs

700 Governors Drive

Pierre, South Dakota 57501-2293

Telephone: (605) 773-3413

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