Niki Sampson, executive director of the Klamath-Lake Counties Food Bank in southern Oregon, has seen 250 more households come in for food assistance since May.
“Nearly 85% have never had to use a food bank program,” Sampson said, noting the rise in the number of seniors and residents with disabilities requiring assistance. “Since January it’s been inflation, inflation, inflation.”
The Oregon Food Bank serves approximately 5,100 households annually in rural areas near the California border.
Across the country, food banks and pantries are feeling both ends of the economic strains of inflation and rising food prices.
Community lifelines are experiencing a significant increase in demand while battling higher grocery and other costs.
Valerie Keeney, public relations coordinator for Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action, which runs the Southeast Ohio Food Bank and other community assistance programs, said demand for food assistance has increased. 60% compared to January.
“Items that are increasingly expensive at the grocery store are often in high demand, including protein and dairy products. However, many families crave the basics – peanut butter, cereal, soup and produce. We also serve a lot of seniors and families with children – so we try to stock items that are easy to prepare without a lot of other ingredients,” she said.
Like other food banks, Keeney also said the Ohio-based food bank is seeing rising costs.
Food prices are up 13.1% from a year ago and rose 1.3% in a month, according to the latest consumer price index.
Bread prices are up 13.7% from a year ago and rose 1.6% from June to July. Other prices are also hammering consumers, including year-over-year increases for flour (22.7%), chicken (17.6%), produce (9.3%) and food. babies (15%), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We’re seeing that inflation is really impacting people’s budgets,” said Liz Seefeldt, executive director of The Brick Ministries, which operates food pantries in the Ashland, Wis., area near Lake Superior.
Seefeldt said his operations serve rural northern Wisconsin and there is demand for fresh produce, dairy and meat.
“They’re looking for ways to cut their budget,” she said, pointing to trends in rural areas as well as some urban food deserts where residents will buy food from dollar stores.
Some food banks are still recovering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic when closures and public health concerns closed more public operations and decreased volunteer numbers, especially older ones.
Seefeldt said before the pandemic hit in 2020, Brick Ministries had four paid staff members and about 200 volunteers.
“Now we are 145,” she said.
Rising gas prices this year have particularly strained rural communities where commutes are longer and better-paying jobs and occupations may be scarce.
Sampson said residents of southern Oregon can drive up to 50 miles a day to get to work.
“What we hear the most is, ‘I can’t afford the extra gas costs to get to work, so we’re stretching our grocery budget, which leaves us short,’” Sampson said. “These are middle-income people who don’t ask for help.”
Gasoline prices hit record highs across the country in June, including in Oregon ($5.55 per gallon), California ($6.44 per gallon) and nationally (5. $02 per gallon), according to AAA. These prices have fallen since June but are still up from a year ago.
The wave of inflation comes after food banks and pantries saw increased needs with job losses and wage cuts sweeping the United States and global economies.
“Before the pandemic, our food bank distributed enough food for 150,000 meals a day to the community. During the pandemic, that figure jumped to more than 300,000 meals a day. We continue to prepare 250,000 meals every day,” said Greg Higgerson, director of development for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.
“The additional demand is driven by the large number of people living at the financial tipping point of our society. Faced with a perfect storm of higher fuel costs, grocery costs and other expenses across the board, families who were barely paying their bills are suddenly having to make even tougher choices,” he said. declared.
One of the byproducts of inflation and food insecurity is that it leads to increased purchases of cheaper and less nutritious processed and non-perishable foods.
“When it comes to food, it’s unfortunate that the most affordable choices available also tend to be the most unhealthy,” Higgerson said. “High-starch and high-sugar, high-sodium, and highly-processed foods cost significantly less on a ‘cost per calorie’ basis. As a result, our low-income neighbors are at a very disproportionate risk of developing chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other conditions.
Higher costs for food banks
Congress has elected not to proceed with the universal free school lunch effort launched during the pandemic and is withdrawing certain other COVID-related programs and disbursements.
Expanding free school meals to all public school students nationwide cost $11 billion in additional spending and helped about 10 million children.
Senate Republicans have opposed continued additional spending, prompting the pullback despite the tidal wave of domestic and military spending during and throughout the pandemic.
This could further increase food insecurity and also conspires with higher prices to strain food banks and pantries when they are needed most.
Brenda Shaw, director of development at the Low Country Food Bank in South Carolina, said the cost of food has risen 40% and transportation expenses have risen 50% during the current wave of inflation. She said independent truckers who help the regional food bank have been hit hard by rising fuel prices and other costs.
“For example, a truckload of canned tuna cost $46,000 in February 2020 and now costs $57,000, a truckload of peanut butter cost around $34,000 and now costs $40,000, and a truckload of diced tomatoes cost $15,000 and now costs $23,000,” Shaw said. “Overall transportation costs have increased by more than 20%, and the average cost per load to deliver products from the Southeast has increased by 50%, from $1,200 to $1,500 before the pandemic to $2,400 at $3,000 now.
Shaw said the Charleston-based group saw 150 to 160 visitors a month before the pandemic and up to 1,000 a month during the depths of the coronavirus and its economic impacts.
“In January 2022, we served 358 visitors. In July 2022, that number increased to 521 visitors through our front door,” she said.
In Oregon, Sampson said food costs for its operations have increased by 30%.
The latest CPI showed year-on-year increases for everything from bacon (9.2%) and coffee (20.3%) to bananas (7.4%) and eggs (38%) .
The Maryland Food Bank – which operates in Baltimore, Hagerstown and the east coast of Maryland – is also seeing a pronounced increase in costs.
The food bank predicts that its new fiscal year – which began in July – will see an 18% increase in food distribution and programming costs.
Officials said that before the pandemic, Maryland operations bought about 12 million pounds of food a year at 45 cents a pound. For the new fiscal year, MFB plans to purchase 25 million pounds of food at 88 cents per pound.
Food pantries and assistance programs have also been hit by supply chain shortages, including for items such as coffee, cereal, condiments and boxed meals such as Hamburger Helper.
That’s according to Catie Badsing, food security program manager for the Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry in the Madison, Wisconsin area.
She said many local residents are also feeling higher prices and reduced support.
“Inflation is a huge factor driving demand. Also, there is less cash assistance available for families and households,” Badsing said, referring to the withdrawal or elimination of COVID assistance and financial assistance for low-income households. .
“In 2021, households were able to count on the benefits of pandemic EBT, child tax credit deposits and stimulus checks. These injections of cash straight into people’s pockets meant they didn’t have to visit the pantry as often (or at all) to make ends meet. So not only are the prices higher, but people have less cash available,” Badsing said.