‘I view it as propaganda’: Trump’s food box letters create problems in run-up to election

Source: Politico | October 30, 2020 | Helena Bottemiller Evich

Anxiety about the letters and the appearance of politicizing food aid runs deep in both red and blue states.

Food banks, schools and other nonprofits serving needy families during the pandemic are expending considerable resources in the final days of the election to remove or explain letters from President Donald Trump that are now required in millions of government food aid boxes.

The USDA’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program began requiring that all boxes include a self-praising letter from the president, in both English and Spanish, a month ago — setting off a rash of criticism that Trump is leveraging taxpayer resources to bolster his reelection campaign.

But as election day nears, nonprofits distributing the boxes are becoming increasingly worried about unwittingly engaging in political activity, according to interviews with more than two dozen people involved in the program. They’re ramping up efforts to remove the letters — and some are adding letters of their own explaining that the boxes are unrelated to the campaign.

“I view it as propaganda,” said Melissa Acedera, founder of Polo’s Pantry, a mobile food pantry that aids the most vulnerable in Los Angeles, including those who are homeless.

On Sunday, Acedera’s group handed out roughly 200 of the boxes to families in need in Compton, but not before removing every single letter that bore Trump’s signature. It took a team of volunteers about two hours to open each taped box and retrieve the letters, which were placed under all of the food in the box. “It was such a pain in the ass,” she said.

Countless other providers around the country are also using volunteers to open each box and remove the letters one-by-one before handing them out. Other groups are printing their own letters to include with the aid boxes, in an effort to make it clear they are not endorsing Trump or any other candidates just ahead of the election. Some in the anti-hunger community have even crafted their own stickers to affix to the outside of the boxes. One reads: “This food is paid for by US taxpayers to support our neighbors during the pandemic.”

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