High inflation leaves food banks struggling to meet needs

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Kendall Nunamaker and her family of five in Kennewick, Washington, faced impossible math this month: how do they pay for gas, groceries and their mortgage with inflation driving up prices

May 11, 2022, 10: 19 PM

6 min read

Kendall Nunamaker and her family of five in Kennewick, Washington, faced impossible math this month: How to pay for gas, groceries and the mortgage with inflation driving up prices?

For many families, like the Nunamakers’, food insecurity has become a devastating surprise.

“There’s no reason us as a couple and a family should be struggling so hard,” Nunamaker said. “We make decent money.”

She works three days a week at a home decor store for $15. 25 an hour; her husband, Nick, works a full-time union job as a paratransit driver at $27 an hour. Though they receive some money from a state nutrition program for young children that their two youngest qualify for, they still spent $360 on groceries last week.

The high prices of groceries meant that they didn’t have enough food for everyone. Nunamaker was left wondering how Nunamaker would manage to stretch her next paycheck to pay the mortgage and other household bills.

In the past, the family had to sell possessions such as firearms and VR headsets in order to bridge the gap.

“At some point,” Nunamaker said, “we’re not going to have anything because we would have sold everything.”

So Nunamaker and her husband visited two local food banks for the first time last week.

The pandemic forced roughly 60 million Americans to seek help for food insecurity, according to Feeding America. At the end of 2021, as hiring boomed, demand for food banks returned to regular levels. However, the relief was temporary.

“In the last few months, with this increase in inflationary pressures, we’re seeing 95% of our 200 member food banks saying that they have seen either leveling or an increase in need,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America.

In the area along the Columbia River where Nunamaker lives, the number of clients seeking food aid at a church pantry jumped 40% between December and March, according to Eric Williams, director of community partnerships at Second Harvest, an organization that works to supply local pantries with food. He said that his organization must do more with less because the same costs are being incurred by its suppliers. The price that Second Harvest pays for obtaining donated produce has risen from about 6 cents a pound a year ago to about 10 or 11 cents a pound now, Williams said. Some of Feeding America’s food pantry partner have closed due to declining donations and higher delivery and receiving costs. Others have less food even though they have more demand.

” Our network emphasizes equity and access,” Babineaux Fontenot stated. “So we are working harder to reach those who have the highest levels of food insecurity. How far can we go when gas prices rise? We have data that shows that race and place are significant indicators of whether or not you will be food insecure and how deeply you will be food insecure.”

Because of inflation and a reduction in aid, a food bank that serves three counties in Ohio — also called Second Harvest — is facing a drop in the amount of food it’s able to provide.

“Compared to last year at this time, we’re about 50% down in what we have received in the past in federal food donations and then about 20% down from food drives in our collection of food at the grocery stores,” Executive Director Tyra Jackson said. “All of that combined is truly having an impact on our budget because we’re needing to purchase more food outright.”

The struggles of families are heightened by the fact that government benefits that were increased during the pandemic like food stamps or unemployment insurance have stopped or will end shortly.

” “Our work is always important,” Babineaux – Fontenot stated. “It’s increasingly important when we have all of these headwinds.”

Williams, of Spokane, extended gratitude to the donors and volunteers that keep his organization running, some of whom worked more than 100 shifts last year. When assisting with mobile food banks distributions, it can be difficult for him to see the extent of food insecurity in his area.

“You can see the need and then you go, “Oh God, oh My God,” Williams said. “But then as you hand somebody a box of food and they drive off: ‘Yeah, we were able to help,’ which is heart-wrenching on one hand and heartwarming on the other.”

Because it upsets her so much, Nunamaker said, she hasn’t discussed her family’s struggles with her three children, age 2, 4 and 7, or her network of friends and relatives. She stated that the food banks had helped her family last week.

“People need to know that just because they have to go to a food pantry or seek assistance, it doesn’t mean that they are less of a parent or person. “Because everybody needs help sometimes.”

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