Food banks are struggling to meet the growing demand caused by rising food prices, which are squeezing the budgets of households and organizations themselves.
Forgotten Harvest, which serves the Detroit metro area, said demand has increased 25% to 45% since December in different areas it serves. In March alone, demand increased by 30% compared to the previous month.
Food Rescue spokesman Christopher Ivey said Metro Detroit was leading the bell curve, experiencing economic ripples before they hit other parts of the United States.
“The need is growing rapidly as gas prices continue to rise,” he said. “As you know, there are shortages in grocery stores and the costs of basic goods are increasing more and more,” he said, adding that the organization is challenged by increased demand but is always able to meet the needs of the public.
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With inflation at its highest level in four decades, US households are feeling the pinch of higher prices on a range of goods and services. Food prices in grocery stores in March were 10% higher than a year earlier, while food prices in restaurants were 6.9% higher than in March 2021, according to the latest Department of Labor consumer price index.
A recent survey by Feeding America, which operates a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries and meal programs, found that about 85% of its food banks saw demand for food aid increase or stay down. even in February compared to the previous month. . This represented an increase of around 20% from the previous survey in January.
The pressures follow two difficult years caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Lines snaked along the streets outside food banks in 2020 as the arrival of the new coronavirus slowed the US economy and demand for free milk, vegetables and canned goods increased. Although businesses began to reopen widely after the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines, food insecurity persisted in major metropolitan areas amid global supply issues, a shortage of workers and a lingering pandemic. .
“I think one of the things the pandemic has brought to light is that food insecurity has plagued much of America even before this pandemic took hold,” said Allison Korn, director of the Food Law & Policy Clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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Ms Korn said that with inflation, people who were not necessarily part of historically disenfranchised groups are now experiencing food insecurity at higher rates.
“You will continue to see people coming into food banks who are elderly, undocumented and disabled,” she said. “But you also see people who are just trying to cobble together jobs who may suffer from chronic and persistent unemployment.”
In addition to inflationary pressures that bring more people into food banks and pantries, they force providers to secure enough food to distribute to those who need it most.
“We had to work harder to get the food needed to sustain the community,” said Tim Fetsch, chief operating officer of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, which started in 1975 and provides food to nearly 400,000 people every year.
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Fetsch said the pandemic and the current economic climate have significantly affected the organization’s supply chain due to increased food costs, rising transportation costs and limited food availability. .
The food bank has traditionally relied heavily on retail partnerships for donations. But these retailers face the same supply chain issues and, in turn, have reduced the amount of food they donate, Fetsch said.
According to President and Chief Operating Officer Katie Fitzgerald, Feeding America was able to close the gap in its food availability by purchasing food, something it rarely had to do in the past since most food was donated. She said food banks in the organization’s network have increased food purchases by almost 60%.
But with food companies raising prices for everything from snacks to mustard amid inflationary pressures, it will be hard to sustain. “We’re still trying to buy this food, but now it’s costing us 40% more,” she said.
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The USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program has partnered with food suppliers across the country, in addition to state agencies, to help keep shelves stocked locally. The USDA is investing about $2 billion in the nation’s emergency food system in fiscal year 2022, hoping to match what the department provided in 2021, a spokesperson said.
“We continue to see challenge after challenge after challenge,” said Mr. Ivey, spokesman for the Detroit Metro Food Bank. “And, you know, I hope there’s a light at the end of the tunnel soon.”