More and more Americans are hungry and it costs more to feed them

The first time Kelly Wilcox drove her 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan to the food pantry near her home in Payson, Utah, she immediately noticed one thing that surprised her: the new models of Toyota and Honda sedans and minivans. . “I’ve seen a lot of other people with cars like mine who had kids in their cars,” she said.

The mother of four young children didn’t know what to expect when she took that first trip to Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry this spring. She knew she needed help. Her husband had lost his job. She soon found a new job as an account manager, but with inflation it wasn’t enough. “We still can’t keep up with the bills,” said Ms. Wilcox, 35. To keep her children fed this summer, she visited the pantry regularly and said that barring a change, such as a drop in food prices or an increase for her husband, will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Tabitha’s Way headquarters in Spanish Fork, Utah, a city of approximately 44,000 residents outside Provo, served approximately 130 families each week, offering essentials such as fresh produce and infant formula. This year, serving people like Mrs. Wilcox and her family whose salaries don’t go far enough, that number has jumped above 200.

Rising food insecurity is not about a sudden wave of unemployment as it was when the economy stalled in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic. It’s about inflation: higher prices for housing, gas and above all food. According to the latest report on consumer prices, the cost of food increased by 10.4% from the previous year, the largest increase in 12 months since 1981.

Food banks are trying to meet these needs by addressing decreasing donations and, in some cases, increasing awareness among people in need of help that food banks are an option.

Data from the Census Bureau showed that last month 25 million adults sometimes hadn’t eaten enough in the previous seven days. This was the highest number since just before Christmas in 2020, when the pandemic continued to take a heavy toll on the economy and the unemployment rate was nearly double what it is today.

A survey conducted by the Urban Institute found that food insecurity, after declining dramatically in 2021, has increased to roughly the same level as in March and April 2020: around one in five adults reported experiencing food insecurity in their homes. Previous 30 days. Among adults with a job, 17.3% said they experienced food insecurity, up from 16.3% in 2020. (The most recent survey had 9,494 respondents and a 1.2-point margin of error. percentages).

Locally, these trends are reflected in what Wendy Osborne, the director of Tabitha’s Way, sees in Utah. “There are more people who have jobs, they are working, they just aren’t doing enough,” she said.

Ms. Osborne said most of the families who collected food from Tabitha’s Way were employed with one or more jobs. “I repeatedly hear: ‘I have never had to use a food pantry. I’m the one who helped people, not the one who needed help, ‘”she said.

Lines of thousands of cars outside food counters and food pantries were among the iconic images of the first phase of the pandemic, when the economy contracted after nationwide closures. The federal government helped with extra funds and extra food. Individual donors have donated money.

“In the beginning there was a big charitable response. There has also been a very solid government response, “said Elaine Waxman, an expert on food insecurity and federal nutrition programs at the Urban Institute in Washington. But an end to rising unemployment, incentive controls and payments. monthly tax credit for children, combined with inflation, means that problems are starting to show up again, this time the donations are decreasing just as the need is growing again.

“We are fine in a crisis. We are up to the occasion, “said Ms Waxman.” But we don’t know what to do if the crisis persists. “

Feeding America, the country’s largest network of food banks, which helps stock the small frontline pantries where customers collect food, said 65% of member organizations surveyed reported an increase from May to June in the number of people served. Only 5 percent reported a decline.

At the same time, cash donations are declining, a huge help at the start of the pandemic. In the first quarter of the year, national office revenue fell nearly a third from the previous year, to $ 107 million from $ 151 million.

“You are in the middle of a battle and people are leaving the field,” Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, said in an interview. During the visits to the food banks, she said: “I go into freezers that don’t contain much food.”

The Feeding America network includes 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and food programs. In the four months for which data is most recently available, February to May, 73% of Feeding America food banks surveyed said food donations fell, with 94% saying the cost of food food purchases have increased and 89% are paying more for transportation to buy or deliver food.

During the first three quarters of fiscal year 2022, Feeding America said, it received 1.14 billion pounds of food from federal commodity programs, up from £ 2.46 billion the previous year.

The multiple pressures on emergency food systems are evident at Tabitha’s Way. In the first half of 2022, food donations fell by nearly two-thirds compared to the same period last year. Food donations from grocery stores and restaurants were less than a quarter from the previous year. Cash donations fell to under $ 700,000 from nearly $ 1.1 million.

Just like consumers, the pantry spends more on the food it buys. Fuel to collect donated food costs more, albeit slightly down from recent highs. And with unemployment at 2% in Utah, labor costs for drivers and skilled personnel have also risen. Ms. Osborne said the average wage for her staff was $ 20 or more per hour, up from $ 16 a year ago. “We don’t want our employees to be food insecure too,” she said.

“There has been a lot of nationwide attention during Covid, rightfully so, but sadly things have not changed and unfortunately they are getting worse right now, especially with all the inflation,” Ms Osborne said.

Those long lines at food banks at the start of the pandemic, and cataclysm for all at once, may also have done something to shake off some of the lingering stigma around emergency food systems.

“I thought it was going to be a lot of off-brand foods or ready meals,” said Antazha Boysaw, 24, a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Instead, the mother of two young children found her local food pantries that offered pumpkin, shrimp, and brown rice.

“You can eat luxury meals from the food pantry,” Ms. Boysaw said. “It’s not like you’ll get the bare minimum of things that are past due and left over.”

She started going to a food pantry in 2021 after learning her income was too high to qualify for SNAP benefits, sometimes called meal vouchers, yet she still needed assistance feeding her children.

“I had my hat, a big sweater – I didn’t want anyone to see me,” she said of the first time she went to a food pantry.

Now, as inflation continues to drive up prices, it has come to rely on food assistance for healthy meals and is encouraging others in need to seek help as well.

Ms. Boysaw started posting videos on TikTok about her positive experience. She used to say to a friend: “Don’t be afraid, girl, take your food! Make sure you go with your ID card.

Other first-time pantry goers have managed to get through the pinnacle of pandemic closure without needing this kind of assistance, but are finding inflation more difficult to navigate. Iliana Lebron-Cruz, 44, a health instructor who also works for a dog shelter, lives an hour west of Seattle with her husband, a Costco supervisor, and their three children. They have a combined family income of approximately $ 120,000. “We basically live from pay to pay,” she said.

Recently, Ms. Lebron-Cruz found herself looking for free food options in her area after unexpectedly spending hundreds of dollars traveling to Oregon after a family emergency.

When he got home after that trip, he looked at his empty refrigerator. “I get paid on Thursday. Its tuesday. I don’t have it, ”she said she understood. He called it a food pantry.

“If something opens up with the way inflation is, it’s kind of a double whammy,” he said. “Six months ago, if the same thing had happened, it wouldn’t have been so bad,” he said.

As Ms. Lebron-Cruz put in a TikTok video that has been viewed more than 390,000 times: “Break the stigma, no need to be embarrassed friends !!!!!” She said she got some negative responses to the video, but also heard from moms that she needed her.

“I’m like, absolutely, go feed your kids,” she said.

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