PHOENIX ( Associated Press) – Long lines are back at America’s food banks as working Americans overwhelmed by inflation turn to handouts to help feed their families.
With grocery prices rising as well as gas prices, many are looking for charitable food for the first time, and more people are arriving on foot.
Inflation in the US is at a 40-year high and gas prices have been rising since April 2020, with the average cost briefly reaching $5 per gallon in June. Rapidly rising rents and the end of federal COVID-19 relief have also taken a financial toll.
Food banks, which were beginning to see some relief as people returned to work after the pandemic closed, are struggling to meet the latest requirement, even as federal programs have less to deliver. Food provide, grocery store donations are pointless and cash gifts almost don’t go away.
Tomasina John was among hundreds of families who parked outside the St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix on a recent day in several lanes of cars around the block. John said that her family had never visited a food bank before because her husband readily supported her and their four children in their construction work.
“But it’s really impossible to get by without some help,” said John, who traveled to share the cost of gas with a neighbor because they were idle under a scorching sun. “The prices are too high.”
Jesus Pascual was also in the queue.
“It’s a real struggle,” said Pascual, a janitor who estimated he spends several hundred dollars a month on groceries for him, his wife, and their five children aged 11 to 19. .
The same scene is repeated across the country, with food bank employees predicting scorching heat keeping in mind the demand.
The jump in food prices comes after state governments ended COVID-19 disaster declarations that allowed temporarily increased benefits under the SNAP, federal food stamp program covering some 40 million Americans.
“It doesn’t look like it will get better overnight,” said Katie Fitzgerald, president and chief operating officer of National Food Bank Network Feeding America. “Demand is really complicating the supply challenges.”
Charitable food delivery has far exceeded the quantity given before the coronavirus pandemic, even though demand eased somewhat late last year.
Feeding America executives say second-quarter figures won’t be ready until August, but they’re hearing anecdotes from food banks across the country that demand is picking up.
St. Mary’s spokesman Jerry Brown said the Phoenix Food Bank’s main distribution center delivered food packages to 4,271 families during the third week in June, up 78% from 2,396 families during the same week last year.
More than 900 families line up at the distribution center each week for an emergency government food box filled with items such as canned beans, peanut butter and rice, Brown said. St. Mary’s added products purchased with the cash donation as well as food provided by local supermarkets such as Bread, Carrots and Pork Chops for a combined package of about $75.
The marketing director said distribution by the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Northern California has ticked up since a pandemic low earlier this year, serving 890 homes on the third Friday in January, up from the third Friday in June. was in 1,410 households. Michael Altfest.
At the Houston Food Bank, America’s largest food bank, where food delivery levels in the pandemic were briefly £1 million a day, are now serving an average of £610,000 a day.
This is up from about £500,000 the day before the pandemic, spokeswoman Paula Murphy said.
Murphy said cash donations haven’t eased, but inflation sure doesn’t go that far.
Food bank officials said the sudden jump in demand took them by surprise.
“Last year, we expected a reduction in demand for 2022 because the economy was doing very well,” said Michael Flood, CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. “The issue with inflation came very suddenly.”
“Many of these are people who have been working and doing well during the pandemic and probably even seen their wages,” Flood said. “But they have also noticed that food prices go up beyond their budget.”
The Los Angeles bank provided nearly 30 million pounds of food during the first three months of this year, slightly less than the previous quarter, but still far more than the 22 million pounds it provided during the first quarter of 2020.
Fitzgerald of Feeding America is calling on the USDA and Congress to find a way to restore hundreds of millions of dollars worth of items recently lost at the end of several temporary programs to provide food to those in need. USDA commodities, which can typically represent 30% of the food dispensed by banks, accounted for more than 40% of all food delivered by the Feeding America network in fiscal 2021.
“There is now a significant need for the public sector to buy more food,” Fitzgerald said.
During the Trump administration, the USDA bought several billions of dollars in pork, apples, dairy, potatoes and other products in a program that gave it to most food banks. The “food procurement and distribution program” designed to help American farmers harmed by tariffs and other practices from US trading partners has since ended. There were $1.2 billion authorized for fiscal year 2019 and $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2020.
Another temporary USDA “Farmers to Families” program that provided emergency relief provided more than 155 million food boxes for needy families across the US during the height of the pandemic before ending May 31, 2021.
A USDA spokesperson noted that the agency is using $400 million from the Build Back Better initiative to establish agreements with states, territories, and tribal governments to purchase food from local, regional and under-served producers. Can be given to food banks, schools and other feeding programs.
Michael G., president and CEO of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in Louisiana. For now, there is enough food, Manning said, but there may not be in the future. The higher fuel cost also makes it more expensive to collect and distribute food, he said.
The USDA’s coronavirus food assistance program, which covers farmers to families, was “a boon” for the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which provides 5 billion pounds of items a year, spokesman Altfest said.
“So losing that was a big hit,” he said.
Altfest said more than 10% of people seeking food are now first timers, and a growing number are showing up on foot rather than in cars to save gas.
“The food they get from us is helping them save their already increased budget for other expenses like gas, rent, diapers and baby formula,” he said.
Meanwhile, food purchases by bank due to food prices have risen from a monthly average of $250,000 before the pandemic to $1.5 million now. Altfest said rising gasoline prices forced the bank to increase its fuel budget by 66%.
Supply chain issues are also a problem, requiring the food bank to become more aggressive with purchases.
“When our inventory dropped to three weeks’ worth, we used to re-order, now we re-order for up to six weeks,” Altfest said.
He said the food bank has already ordered and paid for whole chickens, stuffing, cranberries and other holiday feast items that will be delivered for Thanksgiving, which is the busiest time of the year.
At the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation in Montebello, east of Los Angeles, workers say they see several families with older people like Diane Martinez, who lined up on foot one recent morning.
Some of the mostly Spanish-speaking recipients had cars parked nearby. They took to cloth bags, cardboard boxes or push-ups to pick up their food packages from a delivery site provided by a Los Angeles bank.
“Food prices are very high and they are increasing more every day,” said Martinez, who expressed gratitude for bags of black beans, ground beef and other groceries. “I’m so glad they were able to help us.”
Associated Press Video journalist Eugene Garcia contributed from Montebello, Calif.