Families and food banks are looking for innovative ways to tackle the bite of inflation

WASHINGTON, DC – With soaring inflation driving up food prices, Elma Lou Ortiz hardly thought it would be surprising if more people would show up at the pantry run by Catholic Charities in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“Our customers, are overwhelmed by the height of everything. Even people who receive food stamp benefits come into our warehouse,” said Ortiz, director of the Agency’s Crisis Assistance and Self-Sufficiency Services Department.

The evidence is in the numbers.
In 2021, Ortiz said about 250 families visited the agency’s Choice Pantry office each month, choosing the type of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy they needed. This year, 800 families a month come to the open store Monday through Thursday every week.
“We used to see 30 to 40 families a day, now we see 100 families a day,” she told the Catholic News Service August 3.
Ortiz said a network of five small stores in the outback of Corpus Christi Parish is seeing more customers this year as well.
I explained how to spend extra money – up to $600 a week – to meet the growing demand. And for every delivery from a regional food bank a mile or so away, there’s now a $25 delivery fee.
“We’re all struggling a little bit here,” Ortiz said.
Whether in South Texas or elsewhere, those serving food to those in need reported seeing more low-income working families and seniors asking for help. They listen to people who are forced to carefully choose how to spend their limited financial resources.
Food pantries and meal programs provide a bridge to individuals and families who also face higher costs for housing, utilities, and fuel for their vehicle.
For the 12 months ending in June, consumer prices rose 9.1%, the highest since 1981, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The data shows that overall food prices rose 10.4% with the price of food at home – what is bought from groceries – increasing by 12.2%. The proportion of dining out increased by 7.7%.
Utilities also rose during the period, with electricity up 13.7% and natural gas up 38.4%.
Auto fuels, including all types of gasoline, recorded the highest increase among consumer costs, rising 60.2% last year. US Energy Information Administration data showed that gasoline prices nationwide in July fell 34 cents from their highest level in June to $4.66 a gallon. The cost of gas has been above $4 a gallon since March, the longest in US history.
This inflation is a concern for Anthony Granado, Vice President of Government Relations at Catholic Charities in the USA. It is working with members of Congress and their staff to ensure that adequate funding for social services, particularly food and nutrition programs, is included in the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2023 that are currently being discussed.
“We expect food to continue to rise. Now is not the time to cut programs that serve working and low-income people who struggle with persistently high gas prices and rising food costs.” Ultimately, people with the least amount of money will feel the brunt of this.
The experience of a distribution network operated by Catholic charities in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, illustrates his concern for the impact of inflation on families and food banks.
“We usually spend a month in two weeks on food to support our stores,” said Debbie Hampson, Senior Director of Community Outreach Services.
The operation saw a 1000% increase in the number of customers in the spring and summer of 2020 with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Customer numbers fell in 2021, but not to pre-pandemic levels, Hampson said, and then started to increase again this year in parallel with the rapid rise in food prices.
Her colleague Jennifer Smith, a store supervisor, said many of the people seeking help are taking jobs, but they need a push to expand limited financial resources.
“They are just using our warehouses as an additional resource,” she said. We are seeing an increase in the number of working families. People are the ones who started coming in at the beginning of the pandemic and stopped coming as soon as they got rehired. Now they know about us, they’re back again because they need a supplement.”
Both would like to see stronger support for food programs, especially at a time when inflation is at its highest rate in four decades.
More families are visiting Blanchett House in the Old Town neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Instead of distributing food, the Blanchet House (pronounced Blanche Chai) serves meals to people, especially those who are homeless or who live in one-room apartments.
The charitable agency was founded in the post-World War II years by students from Portland-run Holy Cross University inspired by the Catholic labor movement. Scott Kerman, CEO, said he sees families driving from far away for meals.
We are seeing families with young people at a rate unheard of before the pandemic. There are not many families in this area.
Karman said housing costs in Portland are “going crazy,” prompting people to seek services that can help tackle rising expenses. “He talks about their need.”
In addition to inflation, supply chain obstacles and labor shortages affect the capacity of the Ohio Food Banking Association, which represents 12 state food banks and 3,700 hunger relief agencies, including Catholic-run programs.
The overall effect has sent the cost of food up from 42 cents a pound to $1.04 a pound, said Lisa Humler-Fugit, executive director. The Ohio legislature has called for additional funding for food bank services because low-income and working-class people are subjected to “more economic hardship”.
“Families who turn to us indicate their income,” Humler-Fugit told CNS. “For those who work, while they may have seen a modest increase in wages, they have been eaten up entirely by rising housing and food costs.”
Older people are also feeling the effect of inflation. Humler Fugit said she’s heard from colleagues across the state that seniors are turning to food banks because they face rising energy costs and, for those who own their homes, higher property taxes.
“I hear a lot of old people saying, ‘I only eat one meal a day,'” she said. ‘There is a lot of fear. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of so much anxiety and fear, for fear of ending up homeless. I will end up dead. ”
Despite the huge challenges, providers like Hampson in New York are not planning to reduce food purchases at a time of growing need in the face of high inflation. And their customers know this.
This is what the people at the pantry tell us: ‘Thank you for being here. “It’s good to have extra help,” she said.

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