US food banks already dealing with increased demand from households sidelined by the pandemic now face a new challenge – rising food prices and supply chain issues rattling the country.
The high cost and limited availability mean that some families can find smaller servings or replacements for staples like peanut butter, which cost almost double what they cost a year ago. As the holidays draw near, some food banks worry they won’t have enough stuffing and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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, said, “What happens when food prices go up are those who are experiencing it. , food insecurity gets worse for them.” ,
Food banks that have expanded to meet the unprecedented demand brought on by the pandemic will not be able to absorb the cost of food forever, which they used to be two to three times higher, she said.
Supply chain disruptions, low inventories and labor shortages have all contributed to increased costs for the charity, on which tens of millions of people in America depend for nutrition. Donated food is more expensive to move because transportation costs go up, and barriers at factories and ports make it difficult to get all kinds of goods.
If a food bank had to swap out canned tuna for a smaller size or make substitutions to stretch its dollar, Fitzgerald said, it’s like adding “insulting to injury” to a family reeling from the uncertainty.
In the prohibitively expensive San Francisco Bay Area, the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland is spending an extra $60,000 per month on food. With increased demand, it is now spending $1 million per month to distribute 4.5 million pounds (2 million kilograms) of food, said Michael Altfest, Oakland Food Bank’s director of community engagement.
Before the pandemic, it was spending a quarter of a penny for 2.5 million pounds (1.2 million kilograms) of food.
Canned green beans and peaches cost about 9% for them, Altfest said; over 6% canned tuna and frozen tilapia; And the case for 5 pounds of frozen chickens for the holiday table is up 13%. The price of dry porridge has climbed 17%.
On Wednesdays, hundreds of people line up outside a church in East Oakland to deliver weekly meals. Jason Bautista, the charity’s event manager, said Shiloh Mercy House feeds about 300 families in those days, far less than the 1,100 families it was nourishing at the height of the pandemic. But he’s still seeing new people every week.
“And a lot of people are just saying they can’t afford food,” he said. “I mean they have money to buy some things, but it just doesn’t drag.”
Families can also make use of Shiloh, the community market that opened in May. The refrigerator holds cartons of milk and eggs while sacks of hamburger buns and crusty baguettes sit on the shelves.
Oakland resident Sonia Lujan-Pérez, 45, picks up chicken, celery, onion bread and potatoes — enough to complement a Thanksgiving meal for a 3-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son. The state of California pays him to care for daughter Melanie, who has special needs, but that’s not enough with the monthly rent of $2,200 and the price of milk, citrus, spinach, and chicken so high.
“It’s wonderful for me because I’ll be saving a lot of money,” she said, adding that the holiday season is tough with Christmas toys for kids.
It is unclear to what extent other concurrent government aid, including an expanded free school lunch program in California and increased benefits for people in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will offset rising food prices. An analysis by the Urban Institute think tank in Washington, D.C. found that most households expect to receive enough maximum benefits for groceries, yet a gap exists in 21 percent of U.S. rural and urban counties.
Brian Nichols, vice president of sales for Transnational Foods Inc., which distributes to more than 100 food banks associated with Feeding America, said canned foods from Asia—such as fruit cocktails, pears and mandarin oranges—are due to shortages overseas. are trapped. of shipping container space.
Supply issues seem to be improving and prices are stabilizing, but he expects costs to remain high after so many people are out of the shipping business during the pandemic. “An average container arriving from Asia before COVID would cost around $4,000. Today, that same container is worth about $18,000,” he said.
At the Care & Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado in Colorado Springs, CEO Lynn Telford says the cost of a truckload of peanut butter — 40,000 pounds (18,100 kg) _ increased 80% from June 2019 to $51,000 in August . Mac and cheese is up 19% from a year ago and the wholesale cost of ground beef is up 5% in three months. They are spending more money to buy food for dwindling charities and have less to choose from.
The upcoming holidays worry him. For one thing, the cost of donations has increased from $10 to $15 per bird to buy a frozen turkey.
“The other thing is we’re not getting enough holiday food, like stuffing and cranberry sauce. So we have to supplement with other types of food, which, you know, makes us sad,” said Telford, whose food bank distributed 25 million pounds (11.3 million kilograms) of food last year to more than 200,000 people. Had been.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank says it’s ready for Thanksgiving, with cases of canned cranberries and boxes of mashed potatoes among the items kept in its expanded warehouse. Food Resources Director Wilken Louie ordered eight truckloads of frozen 5-pound chickens—which translate into more than 60,000 birds—to give away free, as well as available at half-turkey prices.
Martha Hussle is grateful for this.
On eating cauliflower and onions on behalf of the Bay Area American Indian Council, Hussle said, “It’s going to be an expensive Thanksgiving, the turkey isn’t going to cost the way it used to.” “And they’re not offering turkey. So thank goodness they’re giving chicken.