Food Banks Serving Millions More Now Than During Pandemic — and Falling Behind

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Food prices continue to be on the rise in 2022, leaving many families unable to afford the groceries they need on a weekly basis. The impact has had a domino effect on food banks struggling to keep up with greater demand as residents look for ways to fill their pantries.

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The latest Consumer Price Index (released Thursday Oct. 13), which tracks rates of inflation for the cost of goods, found that groceries have had nine straight months of increases in 2022, adding up to an overall 13% price jump since September 2021.

One of the most impacted food groups are cereal and grain products, up 16.2% since this time last year largely due to the ongoing war in Ukraine affecting wheat production, as Ukraine and Russia make up 30% of the global supply, according to Forbes. Shelf-stable items like cereal are one of the big grabs at food banks, which has also put pressure on local pantries to keep up.

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According to nonprofit Feeding America, which supports a national network of food banks, there are 34 million people in the U.S. facing food insecurity, including nine million children. In August 2022, the organization reported a survey which found 65% of their member food banks seeing a sharp increase in people seeking food assistance, and 90% seeing steady demand in light of the big jumps in food costs.

“Inflation is devastating to the budgets of families, seniors, and people just barely getting by, driving more and more of them to food banks and food pantries,” Katie Fitzgerald, president and COO of Feeding America, said in a statement accompanying the August report. “The problem we’re seeing is that food banks are not immune to these inflationary pressures. So, while they’re dealing with longer lines at distributions, they face soaring costs and other challenges to their operations.”

The Feeding America survey also found that inflation and supply chain issues are greatly affecting food banks, with 70% of their members reporting donations of food have decreased while operating costs have risen 95%.

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The situation is so dire that the Texas Tribune reported the West Texas Food Bank Network (which services 19 counties) is seeing four times the amount of people needing food supplementation. A quarter of those coming to the food pantries had never needed assistance before, the paper added, with many having full-time employment but “[falling] into a gap when it comes to assistance because they don’t make enough to make ends meet, but they make too much to qualify for food stamp programs like SNAP or WIC.”

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Texas Tribune spoke to Libby Campbell, CEO of West Texas Food Bank, who said, “I don’t know if we’ve ever seen this happen before, where we have pushed a whole new group of people into poverty.”

Another network in the state, the North Texas Food Bank, said that inflation is making “the need for food assistance greater today than it was at the height of the pandemic.” Their representative said NTFB is giving out an average of 12.4 million meals per month. During the pandemic, the group said they were averaging about 10.5 million meals per month.

In North Carolina, it’s a similar situation. Spectrum News reported the MANNA FoodBank serving 16 counties in the western part of the state is helping to feed 120,000 people every month as of August 2022, up from around 70,000 just a couple years prior. The organization’s director Jose Romero believes that families are having to focus on housing and other necessities more than paying for groceries, which has become unmanageable with inflation.

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“People can’t afford it, and they’re needing to go to their local pantry and grab food from them,” Romero said. “[These are] people that have never experienced food insecurity before.”

Learn: 1 in 10 American Homes Remain Food Insecure, Yet Child Hunger Eases
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On the West Coast, Colorado Public Radio published a story about the food bank struggles in that state, which are also hurting due to inflation. “We are currently spending more than triple the amount monthly to purchase food than we were in 2019,” Aditi Desai, a representative with the Food Bank of the Rockies, told CPR. “Inflation and supply-chain disruptions are currently having [an impact] on the ability of food banks to obtain nourishing food at affordable prices.”

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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