Food Insecurity Rises Due to Inflation: 5 Ways To Help Local Food Pantries and Those in Need

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Rising prices due to inflation, the end of the federal extended Child Tax Credit, plus the end of the moratorium on utility shut-offs for non-payment in most states has created a perfect storm leading to food insecurity for many families.

Couple these factors with summer, when children are home and may not have access to free meals through their local school district, and the problem is overwhelming food pantries across the U.S.

“With school being out, demand has increased so much,” said Samantha Morales, founder of Branches Long Island, a 501c3 organization in Middle Island, NY. “Demand is obviously higher in the summer, because kids literally eat snacks all day. I know my kids do! We knew demand would go up, but this year has been really bad.” said 53 million people turned to food pantries and other programs for help in 2021. GOBankingRates’ conversations and e-mails with volunteers and directors of food banks across the country indicate that number could be even higher in 2022. Most we spoke with said they are getting an influx of community members seeking support.

Morales said she has seen a tremendous increase in requests for help since she started the 501c3 organization out of her home in 2019. “Back then, we were doing 30 Blessing Boxes per week,” she said. “Now we’re doing anywhere from 35 to 50 per day.” Blessing Boxes, she explained, are customized food boxes specially prepared for families in need. “We are big on custom requests and maintaining the dignity of people who need food. We don’t want anyone to have to take what they or their kids won’t eat,” she said.

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Morales explained that they had to halt requests for Blessing Boxes, temporarily, and for the first time ever have a waiting list of people in need. “We were basically wiping out our shelves. Completely empty. We had to turn people away, which is horrifying,” she said.

In addition to Blessing Boxes, which allow families to request groceries, diapers, formula and household items, Branches Long Island also provides emergency bags of food for those in immediate need. Morales said they are getting more walk-ins than ever before. “It’s been incredibly hard to keep up with the need,” she said.

Koren Rife, senior manager of marketing and communications at Food Bank of South Jersey, has also seen a rise in need due to inflation. “We are serving neighbors at height-of-the-pandemic numbers, in the 90,000 range across four counties in southern New Jersey each month,” Rife said.

Rife also anecdotally noted that there are more new faces recently, too. “There are new neighbors in need,” Rife said, noting that she didn’t have recent statistics. “I can tell you that at the height of the pandemic, about 40% of our distribution lines were folks who had never needed us before.”

A Nationwide Issue

Food insecurity and struggling food pantries are not just limited to the Northeast U.S., either. Volunteers across the U.S. reported similar challenges in keeping up with demand.

Nicole McIntosh, Director of Client Engagement at Meals On Wheels Atlanta, said, “Many of our current pantry recipients are people we have not served prior to this year. On many occasions, we have also provided emergency food assistance.”

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Meals On Wheels Atlanta provides home-delivered, pre-cooked meals to seniors in the region. The organization also runs a food pantry with non-perishable items. McIntosh said that the pantry is currently experiencing a shortage of items such as “juice, spaghetti sauce and canned meat like tuna and chicken.”

Food Pantries Receive Fewer Donations Than Before

In addition to facing increased need and new clients, food pantries are not getting the same amount of donations they’ve gotten in the past to support their community. That’s because it’s not just lower income families who are strapped for cash. “A lot of our donors who regularly donate can’t give anymore,” Morales said. “Costs are high and they are just trying to survive. They don’t have extra to donate.”

Emily Sherry, with her partner Anthony Heaney, started the Table at Woodstock, a not-for-profit 501c3 community kitchen that seeks to address food insecurity in the Catskills region of New York, pointed out another factor in food pantry shortages. “When the world feels like it’s on fire, it can be easier to think about supporting large national or international causes. It can be simple to forget that there are people in our own communities that are suffering.”

The Table at Woodstock is currently holding a fundraiser to meet increased food insecurity in the community since the pandemic. Sherry said, “I think it’s really important that people who can help, do.”

How To Help Your Local Food Pantry

Those who run food pantries want you to know that even a small donation can make a difference. And, if you can’t donate, you might be able to spare some time to help restock shelves, pack boxes or simply share news about fundraisers and food drives in your community through social media.

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“Don’t think that if you can’t send money, then you can’t make a difference. Absolutely not true,” Sherry said. There are many ways you can help those in need, even if you are also feeling the crunch of inflation and bigger food bills.

1. Clean Out Your Pantry

Most food pantries accept donations of non-perishable items. Some also accept perishable goods, provided they have refrigeration to store them and a means to distribute the food to those in need.

Rife listed some of the most-needed items, with an emphasis on healthy and filling foods including:

  • High-protein items like peanut butter
  • Canned chicken and tuna
  • Beans
  • Canned goods (fruits in water and low-salt vegetables)
  • Applesauce
  • Whole grain breakfast cereals and oatmeal
  • Rice and pasta
  • Granola bars
  • Shelf-stable milk
  • Non-perishable meals like chili, ravioli, soups, stews, and macaroni and cheese

Rife noted that some of the most requested items include fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, meat and poultry. “The prices for these everyday items are very high right now. If families are able to go to the grocery store, they may only be able to buy a half gallon of milk instead of a gallon,” she said.

The Table at Woodstock recently posted on Facebook reminding local friends that donations of garden grown vegetables are welcome. If you have an overabundance of zucchini, tomatoes or other garden-grown produce, donating to your local food pantry is a great way to help others. 

Always make sure that your local food pantry can accept perishable donations before making your donation.

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2. Hold a Food Drive

If you volunteer for a PTA or PTO, Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, coach youth sports, or run any type of business or events for the public, you can hold a food drive to help your local food pantry. If you run a business, you can also hold a food drive to donate. If your organization has multiple departments, you can create a competition among different teams to see who can donate the most.

“Diaper drives, pet food drives, back to school and canned food drives are always welcome,” Sherry said. “Just please make sure that nothing donated is out-of-date or expired.”  

3. Donate Money or Gift Cards

Cash, of course, is always king. “Financial donations are always the best way to contribute because it allows the agency to put resources where they’re needed most,” Sherry said.

But if you’re feeling the sting of inflation yourself, you might consider cashing in credit card rewards for a grocery store, Target or Walmart gift card and donating it to the food pantry to buy what they need. Formula, diapers, wipes and household goods are on the wish lists for many food pantries.

If you accrued points during Prime Day, you may be able to use your credit card rewards for an Amazon gift card or even make a purchase on Amazon using your points.

Target Circle members can also use their rewards to purchase items for local food pantries. Morales pointed out that the Branches website includes wish lists for Amazon, Target and Walmart, as well as an Amazon Smile link so you can donate proceeds from every purchase to the organization.  

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4. Volunteer

“On top of all that,” Morales said, “We always need volunteers.” Even if you only have a few hours on a weekend to spend stocking shelves or handing out food, every minute — just like every dollar — counts.

5. Spread the Word

“Spreading awareness is free,” Sherry said. “Share resources on your social media, start a Facebook fundraiser for a local food pantry, and tell other people how they can help even if you can’t contribute financially.”

As the pandemic taught us, we are all in this together. Taking steps to help in your community can make life better for everyone. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, in time or money, to raise awareness about the tremendous need in community food pantries across the U.S. right now.

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