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Sunday, March 19, 2023

US Food Banks are Struggling to Feed the Hungry

Food banks in the United States, which are already coping with increasing demand from families displaced by the epidemic, now confront a new challenge: rising food costs and supply chain concerns that are wreaking havoc across the country.

Because of the rising prices and restricted supply, some families may have to settle for smaller servings or substitutes for necessities like peanut butter, which now costs nearly double what it did a year ago. Some food banks are concerned that they may not have enough stuffing and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and Christmas as the holidays approach.

“When food costs rise, food insecurity for people who are already struggling worsens,” said Katie Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of Feeding America, a charity that coordinates the work of more than 200 food banks around the country.

Food banks that grew to meet the pandemic’s enormous need won’t be able to bear food expenditures that are two to three times what they used to be indefinitely, she added.

Supply chain interruptions, decreased inventory, and manpower shortages have all led to higher expenses for nonprofits that provide food to tens of millions of Americans. Because transportation costs have increased, and bottlenecks at industries and ports make it harder to receive supplies of all types, donated food is more expensive to carry.

Fitzgerald noted that if a food bank needs to substitute smaller cans of tuna or make substitutions to stretch their budget, it’s like adding “insult to injury” to a family dealing with uncertainty.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland spends an extra $60,000 per month for food in the outrageously costly San Francisco Bay Area. Due to increased demand, the Oakland food bank is now spending $1 million per month to distribute 4.5 million pounds (2 million kilograms) of food, according to Michael Altfest, director of community engagement at the Oakland food bank.

It was spending a fourth of the money on 2.5 million pounds (1.2 million kilos) of food prior to the outbreak.

Canned green beans and peaches are up about 9%, canned tuna and frozen tilapia are up more than 6%, and a case of 5-pound frozen chickens for Christmas tables is up 13%, according to Altfest. The cost of dry oatmeal has increased by 17%.

Hundreds of people queue outside a church in east Oakland on Wednesdays for a weekly food distribution. On such days, Shiloh Mercy House serves roughly 300 families, down from 1,100 during the peak of the outbreak, according to Jason Bautista, the charity’s event manager. But he continues to meet new folks every week.

He said, “And a lot of folks are just stating they can’t afford food.” “I mean, they have the financial means to purchase certain items, but it’s just not stretching.”

Shiloh’s community market, which opened in May, is also available to families. Refrigerators hold cartons of milk and eggs, while shelves hold bundles of hamburger buns and crusty baguettes.

Sonia Lujan-Perez, 45, of Oakland, purchased chicken, celery, onions, bread, and potatoes to enhance her Thanksgiving feast for herself, her 3-year-old daughter, and her 18-year-old son. The state of California pays her to care for her special needs daughter Melanie, but with a monthly rent of $2,200 plus the high cost of milk, citrus, spinach, and chicken, it’s not enough.

“It’s fantastic for me because I’ll save a lot of money,” she said, adding that the holiday season is particularly difficult for her because she has to buy Christmas items for her children.

It’s unclear how much additional government assistance, such as an expanded free school lunch program in California and an increase in federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments, would counteract growing food prices. According to a study conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, while most households are projected to get the maximum benefits for food, a gap still persists in 21% of rural and urban counties in the United States.

Canned items from Asia, such as fruit cocktail, pears, and mandarin oranges, have been detained abroad due to a lack of shipping container capacity, according to Bryan Nichols, vice president of sales for Transnational Foods Inc., which supplies to more than 100 Feeding America-affiliated food banks.

Although supply issues appear to be easing and prices are stabilizing, he anticipates expenses to remain high because so many individuals left the shipping industry during the epidemic. “Prior to COVID, an average container coming from Asia would cost around $4,000.” “That identical container now costs around $18,000,” he added.

According to CEO Lynne Telford of the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado in Colorado Springs, the cost of a truckload of peanut butter—40,000 pounds (18,100 kilograms) has risen by 80% from June 2019 to $51,000 in August. Macaroni and cheese is up 19% from a year ago, while the wholesale price of ground beef has risen 5% in three months. To make up for dwindling donations, they’re spending more money on food, and there’s less to select from.

She is concerned about the forthcoming holidays. For starters, the cost of a frozen turkey gift has risen from $10 to $15 per bird.

“The other issue is that we don’t have enough holiday food, like as stuffing and cranberry sauce.” So we’re having to supplement with different types of food, which makes us unhappy,” said Telford, whose food bank served over 200,000 people last year and distributed 25 million pounds (11.3 million kilograms) of food.

Cases of canned cranberry and cartons of mashed potatoes are among the things packed at Alameda County Community Food Bank’s enlarged warehouse, which claims it is ready for Thanksgiving. Wilken Louie, the director of food resources, purchased eight truckloads of frozen 5-pound chickens — more than 60,000 birds — to give out for free, as well as half-turkeys at cost.

Martha Hasal is grateful for this.

“It’s going to be a costly Thanksgiving; turkey won’t be as expensive as it used to be,” Hasal remarked as she prepared cauliflower and onions on behalf of the Bay Area American Indian Council. “And there will be no turkey.” So it’s a good thing they’re handing away chicken.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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