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Supplies Short, Food Banks Tighten Belts

Food banks around the country are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute staples usually reserved for disaster relief and in some instances to close.

“It’s one of the most demanding years I’ve seen in my 30 years” in the field, said Catherine D’Amato, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, comparing the situation to the recession of the late 1970s.

Experts attributed the shortages to an unusual combination of factors, including rising demand, a sharp drop in federal supplies of excess farm products, and tighter inventory controls that are leaving supermarkets and other retailers with less food to donate.

“We don’t have nearly what people need, and that’s all there is to it,” said Greg Bryant, director of the food pantry in Sheffield, Vt. “We’re one step from running out. It kind of spirals. The people that normally donate to us have less, the retailers are selling to discount stores because people are shopping in those places, and now we have less food and more people. It’s a double, triple, hit.”

A New Push to Roll Back ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Marking the 14th anniversary of legislation that allowed gay people to serve in the military but only if they kept their orientation secret, 28 retired generals and admirals plan to release a letter on Friday urging Congress to repeal the law.

“We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” the letter says. “Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish.”

The former officers offer data showing that 65,000 gays and lesbians now serve in the American armed forces, and that there are more than 1 million gay veterans. “They have served our nation honorably,” the letter states.

The letter’s release comes as rallies are scheduled on the National Mall by groups calling for a change in the law, which is known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” because it bars the military from investigating soldiers’ sexual orientation if they keep it to themselves.

Florida Freezes Its Fund as Governments Pull Out

Seeking to stem a multibillion-dollar run on an investment pool for local governments, top Florida officials voted Thursday to suspend withdrawals from the fund, leaving some towns and school districts worrying about how they would pay their bills.

Local governments in recent weeks have been withdrawing billions of dollars from the fund, fearing losses on investments in debt related to subprime mortgages. The rush to get out of the fund began even though a relatively small percentage of the fund is invested in subprime-related debt, and it is unclear what losses the fund might sustain.

Florida’s troubles were the latest episode in the crisis in subprime lending that has been troubling the credit markets this fall, hitting homeowners, mortgage providers, hedge funds and Wall Street firms. It was the first time since the problems started that a large state investment pool has been forced to freeze withdrawals.