( Photo courtesy California Association of Food Banks )

California’s Farm to Family Program, a state agriculture program that boosts donations to food banks, has received a boost of $3.64 million as charities see unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the Farm to Family funding boost April 29. The money comes from $2.86 million and $775,000 pledged through a philanthropic plan jumpstart a $15 million campaign to support the program through the end of the year, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“Putting food on the table during this pandemic is hard for families on the brink,” Newsom said in the release “It’s in that spirit that we’re expanding our Farm to Family program while also working to connect low-income families with vital resources and financial support. We thank our farmers for stepping up to donate fresh produce to our food banks.”

Dave Puglia, Western Growers president and CEO, thanked Newsom and California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross in a news release.

“Many farmers who planted before the economy was shut down made the difficult decision to abandon their crops rather than double their financial loss by harvesting, packing and cooling highly perishable produce with no market,” Puglia said in the release.

Growers have already more than doubled their typical donations to food banks in March and April, he said, and “it makes sense to redirect as much of the food orphaned by the economic shutdown as possible to food banks.”

To boost the Farm to Family funds, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, with the approval of the USDA, redirected $2 million in unused Specialty Crop Block Grant funds to the California Association of Food Banks, to offset the cost of harvesting, packing and transporting the donated produce.

The USDA Farm to Food Bank program awarded another $860,000 to support the program, according to the release. The state’s Farm to Family works with 41 food banks to handle logistics of packaging the food and communicating with the food banks.

In March, Farm to Family distributed 14.5 million pounds of fresh produce, another 18 was donated the first three weeks of April. The additional funds announced April 28 will distribute another 21 million pounds in May, according to the release.

The $775,000 was donated by Kat Taylor, Farm Credit/CoBank and an anonymous donor, and will allow the California Association of Food Banks help local food banks meet increased demand through May, according to the release.

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