Food Banks Find Creative Ways to Combat Inflation

Elma Lou Ortiz is not surprised that more and more people are showing up to the food pantry at Catholic Charities of Corpus Christi (Texas) given rising food prices due to inflation.

“Our clients are overwhelmed with how much everything has gone up. Even people who are receiving food stamp benefits are coming to our pantry,” said Ortiz, director of the agency’s Crisis Assistance and Self-Sufficiency Services Department.

In 2021, Ortiz said about 250 families visited the agency’s Choice Pantry each month, choosing the type of fresh fruit and vegetables, staples, meat and dairy they need. This year, she tallies 800 families a month coming to the pantry that is open Mondays through Thursdays each week.

“We used to see 30 to 40 families a day and now we’re seeing 100 families a day,” she told Catholic News Service Aug. 3.

Whether in southern Texas or elsewhere, those who provide food to people in need report seeing more low-income working families and senior citizens seeking assistance. They are hearing from people who are having to carefully choose how to spend their limited financial resources.

Food pantries and meal programs are providing a bridge to individuals and families who also are facing higher costs for housing, utilities and fuel for their vehicle.

Data show overall food prices were up 10.4% with food at home — what’s purchased at grocery stores — rising 12.2%. Food outside the home is up 7.7%.

Such inflation is a concern for Anthony Granado, vice president of government relations at Catholic Charities USA. He is working with members of Congress and their staffs to ensure that adequate funding for social services, especially food and nutrition programs, are included in appropriations bills for fiscal year 2023 currently being debated.

“We anticipate food will continue to rise. Now is not the time to cut programs that serve working people and low-income people who are fighting with continued high gas prices and high food costs,” he said. “Ultimately, the people who have the least amount of money are going to feel the brunt of this.”

Illustrating his concern for inflation’s impact on families and food banks is the experience of the distribution network operated by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens in New York.

“Normally what we would spend in a month we are now spending in two weeks on food to support our pantries,” said Debbie Hampson, senior director of community outreach services.

Her colleague, Jennifer Smith, pantry supervisor, said many people seeking assistance hold jobs, but need a boost to stretch limited finances.

“They’re using our pantries as just an extra resource,” she said. “We’re seeing an increase in working families. It’s people who started coming at the beginning of the pandemic and they stopped coming once they were reemployed. Now they know about us, they’re coming back again because they need a supplement.”

More families also are visiting Blanchet House in the Old Town neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Rather than distribute food, Blanchet (pronounced blan-shay) House provides meals to people, especially those who are homeless or living in single-room apartments.

The charitable agency was founded in the post-World War II years by students from the Holy Cross-run University of Portland inspired by the Catholic Worker Movement. It is seeing families driving from farther away for meals, Scott Kerman, executive director, said.

“We’re seeing families with young people at a rate unheard of before the pandemic. There are not a lot of families in this district,” he said.

Beyond inflation, supply chain blockages and labor shortages are affecting the ability of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, which represents the state’s 12 Feeding America food banks and 3,700 hunger relief agencies, including Catholic-run programs.

The overall impact has led to the cost of food to rise from 42 cents per pound to $1.04 per pound, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director. She has called on the Ohio Legislature to provide additional funding for food bank services because low-income and working-class people are being “further economically brutalized.”

Senior citizens, too, are feeling the impact of inflation. Hamler-Fugitt said she has heard from colleagues throughout the state that seniors are turning to food banks as they face rising energy costs and, for those owning their own homes, higher property taxes.

Despite the immense challenges, providers such as Hampson in New York are not planning to reduce food purchases in a time when the need is growing in the face of high inflation. And their clients know it.

“That’s what people are telling us at the food pantry: ‘Thank you for being here. It’s good to have the extra help,’” she said.

Source: Catholic News Service