More Americans turn to food banks for help as the cost of almost everything continues to rise. As there are long lines of people in need, hunger relief organizations have to pay more to buy food to supplement donations.
The fastest price inflation in almost four decades has seen food and other items go up from hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to California’s beautiful coastal views, Orange County.
While some are able pay rents, mortgages, and other fixed expenses, others struggle to put food on the table. Claudia Keller, CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank Orange County, stated that inflation affects families with a fixed budget. Keller stated that food is the most flexible part of a family’s budget and the one you can reduce.
According to the latest inflation data, prices at grocery stores are 6.3% higher this year than last year, and families that have been squeezed by rising fuel and housing costs may find themselves with less or none to spend.
Mike Manning, president of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and CEO, said that “people who had gotten out are now coming back in.” Manning is also the president of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank which serves a 11-parish region in Louisiana. He noted that rising gas prices have made it more difficult for working poor people to get jobs. Manning stated that rising gas prices are affecting people’s ability to put food on their tables.
Inflation affects everyone. But it is most severe for the poor and middle classes, who tend to spend more of their income on food and other necessities. This reality is being promoted by the GOP ahead the midterm elections.
In a recent analysis, Jackie Benson, an economist for Republicans and a member of the Joint Economic Committee noted that rapid price increases in low-cost goods such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Dollar General “disproportionately hurt lower-income Americans”.
A spokesperson for the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., stated that it cannot quantify how much inflation has caused increased demand. We are seeing increased demand for certain items, such as animal protein (chicken, beef, etc.) from our non-profit partners. It has become more expensive.
Manning’s Louisiana organization continues to help people after 2021’s hurricane Ida. This disruption of life has affected many of its service areas. Manning said, “We are having to buy the food that we don’t receive.” There are few poultry and farm operations in the area that regularly donate to community relief organizations. He explained that the area is more dependent on retail donations then many food banks in the country.
COVID-19 had already made food pantries more vulnerable, and the pandemic has also reduced the number of volunteers who help sort, pick up and distribute products. In Keller’s case, this includes those who work at Keller’s 45-acre produce farm.
Keller said that “the rising cost for food has also impacted our bottom line.” Keller is the Orange County nonprofit. In addition to collecting donations from food producers, retailers, and wholesalers, it also purchases food to distribute across the county. She added that “Compounding this is our commitment to providing eggs, milk, and protein, who are seeing the greatest impact of inflation.”
Laguna Food Pantry purchases milk and produce, and sometimes meat, to supplement Second Harvest’s deliveries. Its volunteers also pick up donated food from 16 local grocery shops. Anne Belyea, its executive director, said that the pantry receives 800 gallons of milk from a wholesaler each week. The prices per gallon have risen 16 cents and 40 cents respectively since January and October.
There is an increase in demand for the pantry. Belyea stated that while it used to be only minimum-wage workers trying to survive with part-time jobs, the pantry is now needed by people from all walks of society.
Belyea stated that two florists, who had small, successful businesses before the pandemics, have found themselves in need of food. Another person in need of help is a laid-off medical journalist, who said she was “down to pasta, some beans, and some cheese in her refrigerator, but not as concerned herself with herself as her dog.” “We don’t usually receive pet food from our grocery rescue, but a 50-pound bag full of dog food arrived the same day she came in.”
Volunteers from the Pantry sort and distribute food boxes to motorists, five days per week. Many aid recipients can walk, bike or take the bus to obtain food. Belyea stated, “We see many neighbors picking up for each other.”
According to Belyea, Laguna pantry provided free food to around 80-100 people per week before the pandemic struck in March 2020. As a precautionary measure, the outfit was converted to a drive through when COVID-19 struck. This model has helped the pantry keep pace with demand which now stands at 150 “shoppers” per day, she said.
The Laguna pantry currently has approximately 23,000 grocery pickups in 2019, with that number increasing to over 40,000 in 2020, and 43,000 last Year.
Keller stated that COVID brought many more people to our food lines, many of whom had never been in a food service before. “As we return, there is a mix of people still living in precarious circumstances.”
However, it can be embarrassing and humiliating to turn to a food pantry until you are desperate.
Manning said that “some are ashamed to be in this situation.” Manning also noted the hesitancy of clients to be interviewed or featured in news stories. “They don’t want their friends to know.”
We hear it over and over again, that people have donated their time and their money and are now in the same line. People have stated, “I’ve driven by,” and “I couldn’t stop.” “It was because of my children that it finally happened, said Belyea.