ALEXANDRIA, VA – A food pantry in Fairfax, Virginia, serves as a lifeline for Mandy Ricino in her constant struggle to feed her three children.
“They help fill some holes in my food budget by giving me meat I can’t afford to buy,” Reckinos said, as she picked up groceries for other people.
This need is exacerbated by rising food prices, which are among the most widely felt indicators of rising inflationary pressures in the United States, which are widely attributed to labor shortages, increased transportation costs, and supply chain disruptions. The issues are accounted for along with other factors.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, grocery prices rose an average of 3.5% over the past year. Meat prices are among the highest on record today, and the cost of food is not expected to drop anytime soon.
“Rising prices are putting additional hardships on families because, suddenly, they can’t buy as much as they could before,” explained Jason Jacobowski, chief executive officer of Connecticut Food Bank.
The high prices are affecting not only the financially strapped families but also the food banks and relief groups that provide them with groceries.
“The high prices are costing us more to feed a family,” said Alison Padgett, director of development and outreach at Food for Other. “We have to rethink our buying decisions, because economists say prices are going to remain high for at least a year.”
“We’re already spending too much on food already,” said Greg Trotter, a spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a large food bank. “Our food purchase budget has doubled this year.”
Some customers at food banks and pantries say that without them, they would struggle enough to eat because government food aid only goes so far.
Food For Other’s frequent customer Naomi Cherino said she receives government food aid and federal stimulus payments during the pandemic. Still, she said, getting enough money to feed her family is challenging.
“I have two growing teens who eat a lot,” she said.
As stimulus funds run out, food aid organizations worry they may find a new influx of hungry people looking for help.
“Maybe people have a little more cash because of government subsidies, and that’s kept them afloat,” Jerry Brown, director of public relations at St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, Arizona, told VOA. But “there could be a problem down the road” once federal funding runs out, he said.
The problem has already begun in New Jersey’s Community Food Bank, which covers a large part of the Mid-Atlantic state. Impact leader Triada Stamps said the organization is now serving more customers than at the height of the pandemic due to “sticker shock” at grocery stores.
The financial strain is also evident in those served by Father English Food Pantry in Paterson, New Jersey, according to program director Carlos Roldan.
“Many customers lost their jobs during the pandemic, and those employed only earn minimum wage,” Roldan said. “And when they go to the grocery store, they don’t have enough money to buy everything they need.”
mixed picture for now
But the picture is far from the uniform. Some relief groups say the rising food prices have not had a significant impact on them so far. This is because donors continue to supply most of their food, or supplies have already been purchased in bulk that will last for several months.
“But we already see that a change in prices will affect us very soon,” said Kelly Mott, Mississippi Food Network’s director of foreign affairs. “We’re in the process of buying turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday in November. And since they’re so expensive, we won’t be able to buy as many as we usually do, especially for families whose kids depend on us.”
Stamps said the skyrocketing cost of food is a “warning sign” that food insecurity could worsen in the United States, one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of agricultural commodities.
He said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity, and now, high prices are making it harder for people to “struggle to keep food on the table.”