Thursday, December 2, 2021

Food banks face new challenges as the holidays approach: rising costs and supply problems

Oakland, California (AP) – US food banks, already dealing with increased demand from families marginalized by the pandemic, are now facing a new challenge – soaring food prices and supply chain problems shaking the nation.

The higher cost and limited availability mean that some families can get smaller portions or replacements for staple foods like peanut butter, which cost nearly double what it did a year ago. As the holidays approach, some food banks fear they will run out of toppings and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“When food prices rise, food insecurity for those facing it only gets worse,” said Katie Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of Feeding America, a non-profit organization that coordinates the efforts of more than 200 food banks across the country.

As the holidays approach, some food banks fear they will run out of toppings and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (AP Photo / Terry Chea)

Terry Chea via The Associated Press

Food banks, which have expanded to meet the unprecedented demand caused by the pandemic, will not be able to cover food costs two to three times higher than they used to, she said.

Supply chain disruptions, declining inventories and labor shortages have all driven up the charitable spending on which tens of millions of people in the United States depend for nutrition. Donated food is more expensive because transport costs are rising and bottlenecks in factories and ports make it difficult to deliver all kinds of goods.

Fitzgerald said that if the food bank has to replace smaller canned tuna or make a substitute to stretch its dollars, it’s like adding “insult to injury” for a family swaying with insecurity.

In the prohibitive San Francisco Bay Area, the Alameda County Food Bank in Oakland spends an additional $ 60,000 a month on food. Combined with increased demand, he spends $ 1 million a month distributing £ 4.5 million (2 million kilograms) of food, according to Michael Altfest, director of public relations at the Auckland Food Bank.

Before the pandemic, he spent a quarter of the money on 2.5 million pounds (1.2 million kilograms) of food.

The cost of canned green beans and peaches for them increased by almost 9%, according to Altfest; canned tuna and frozen tilapia – by more than 6%; and the volume of 5 lb frozen chickens for party tables was up 13%. Dry oatmeal prices increased by 17%.

On Wednesdays, hundreds of people line up outside a church in east Auckland for the weekly food distribution. “In those days, Shiloh Mercy House was feeding about 300 families, far less than the 1,100 families it fed at the height of the pandemic,” said Jason Bautista, manager of charities. But he still meets new people every week.

“And a lot of people just say they can’t afford food,” he said. “I mean they have the money to buy certain things, but that’s not the limit.”

Auckland resident Sonia Luhan-Perez, 45, took chicken, celery, onion bread and potatoes – enough to complement a Thanksgiving meal for herself, her 3-year-old daughter, and 18-year-old son. The state of California pays her to care for daughter Melanie, who has special needs, but that’s not enough with a $ 2,200 monthly rent and the high cost of milk, citrus fruits, spinach and chicken.

“This is great for me because I’ll save a lot of money,” she said, adding that the holiday season is tough with Christmas toys for children.

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simon2579 via Getty Images

It is unclear to what extent other concurrent government assistance, including California’s expanded free school lunch program and increased benefits for people in the federal complementary feeding program, offset food price increases. Analysis by the think tank Urban Institute in Washington, DC found that while most households are expected to receive sufficient maximum food benefits, the gap still exists in 21% of rural and urban US counties.

Brian Nichols, vice president of sales for Transnational Foods Inc., which supplies groceries to over 100 food banks affiliated with Feeding America, said canned foods from Asia such as smoothies, pears and tangerines were stuck overseas from for their lack. area of ​​sea containers.

Supply problems appear to be improving and prices stabilizing, but he expects costs to remain high after so many people pulled out of the shipping business during the pandemic. “The average container arriving from Asia before COVID cost about $ 4,000. Today the same container costs about $ 18,000, ”he said.

The cost of a truckload of peanut butter – 40,000 pounds (18,100 kg) – has skyrocketed 80% from June 2019 to $ 51,000 in August, according to the CEO of Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado in Colorado Springs, Lynn Telford. Macaroni and cheese are up 19% year-on-year, while the wholesale price of ground beef is up 5% in three months. They spend more money on food to compensate for the decrease in donations, and there are fewer choices.

The upcoming holidays bother her. First, the cost of a frozen turkey donation has increased from $ 10 to $ 15 per bird.

“It’s another matter that we don’t get enough holiday food like minced meat and cranberry sauce. So we have to add other types of food, which you know makes us sad, ”said Telford, whose food bank fed more than 200,000 people last year by giving away £ 25 million (11.3 million kilograms) of food.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank says it’s set for Thanksgiving, with boxes of canned cranberries and boxes of mashed potatoes among the items stacked in its expanded warehouse. Food procurement director Wilken Louis has ordered eight trucks of frozen 5-pound chicken – which means over 60,000 birds – to distribute free of charge, as well as affordable half-turkeys.

Marta Hasal is grateful for that.

“Thanksgiving will be expensive, turkey will not be as expensive as it used to be,” Hasal said, pumping cauliflower and onions on behalf of the Bay Area Council of American Indians. “And they don’t give out turkey. So thank God they are handing out the chicken. “

AP reporters Terence Chea in Oakland and Ashraf Khalil in Washington contributed to this story.

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