More Americans are going 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: new models of Toyota and Honda sedans and minivans. “I saw a bunch of other people with cars like me who had kids in their cars,” she said.

The mother of four young sons didn’t know what to expect when she made an early visit to Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry this spring. She knew that she needed help. Her husband had lost his job. He soon found a new job as an account manager, but that wasn’t enough with inflation. Ms. Wilcox, 35, said, “We still can’t keep up with the bills. To feed our kids this summer, she visits the pantry regularly and that’s except for one change, such as food prices.” In the fall or increase for her husband, it will be necessary for the foreseeable future.

Tabitha’s Way’s location in Spanish Fork, Utah, a town of about 44,000 outside Provo, served about 130 families each week, offering essentials like fresh produce and infant formula. This year – serving people like Ms. Wilcox and her family whose salaries are not going enough – that number has climbed to over 200.

The rise in food insecurity is not about a sudden wave of unemployment, as it was when the economy came to a halt in the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. It’s about inflation – higher prices for housing, gas and especially food. According to the last report on consumer prices, the cost of food rose 10.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest 12-month increase since 1981.

Food banks are trying to meet these needs in the face of dwindling donations, and in some cases, there has been increased awareness among those who need help that food banks are an option.

Census Bureau data showed that last month, some 25 million adults did not have enough to eat in the past seven days. It was the largest number just before Christmas in 2020, when the pandemic continued to take a high economic toll and the unemployment rate was nearly double what it is today.

a survey conducted The Urban Institute found that food insecurity, after falling sharply in 2021, rose to nearly the same level this June and July as it did in March and April 2020: nearly one in five adults have died in the past 30 days. Experienced food insecurity. Among employed adults, 17.3 percent said they experienced food insecurity, compared to 16.3 percent in 2020. (The most recent survey had 9,494 respondents and a margin of error of 1.2 percentage points.)

On a local level, those trends are reflected in what Wendy Osborne, director of Tabitha’s Way in Utah, observed. “There are more people who have jobs, they’re working, they’re not making enough,” she said.

Ms Osborne said most of the families taking food from Tabitha’s Way were employed in one or more jobs. “I hear over and over again: ‘I’ve never had to use the food pantry. I’m the one who helped people, not the one who needed help,'” she said.

Thousands of cars queued outside food banks and food pantries were among the iconic images of the first phase of the pandemic, when the economy shrank after a nationwide shutdown. The federal government helped with extra money and extra food. Individual donors gave money.

“Initially there was a huge charitable response. The government also had a very strong response,” said Elaine Waxman, specialist in food insecurity and federal nutrition programs at the Urban Institute in Washington. But increased unemployment, stimulus checks and monthly child tax credit payments, combined with inflation, mean problems are starting to resurface. This time as the need is increasing again, so is the donation less.

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

feed america, Largest network of food banks In Country, which helps supply small frontline pantries where customers pick up food, said 65 percent of member organizations surveyed had reported an increase. From May to June in the number of servicemen. Just 5 percent reported a decline.

At the same time, cash donations, a huge help at the start of the pandemic, are few. In the first quarter of the year, National Office’s revenue fell by nearly a third from $151 million to $107 million a year earlier.

“You’re in the middle of a fight, and people are leaving the field,” Feeding America chief executive Claire Babinox-Fontenot said in an interview. On a tour of the food banks, she said, “I go to the freezer, which doesn’t hold a lot of food.”

Feeding America’s network includes 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. In the four months for which the data is most recently available, February through May, 73 percent of Feeding America food banks surveyed said food donations were low, 94 percent said the cost of food purchases had increased and 89 percent said food donations were low. Percent said they were paying more. Transport for receiving or distributing food.

Feeding America said that during the first three quarters of the 2022 fiscal year, it received 1.14 billion pounds of food from federal goods programs, compared to 2.46 billion pounds a year earlier.

Manifold pressures on emergency food systems are evident on Tabitha’s way. In the first half of 2022, food drive 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 of what they were a year ago. Cash donations fell from approximately $1.1 million to less than $700,000.

Just like consumers, the pantry is spending more on the food it buys. Fuel is more expensive to take than donated food, albeit slightly below recent highs. And with unemployment at 2% in Utah, labor costs for drivers and skilled workers have also gone up. Ms Osborne said her employees had an average wage of $20 or more per hour, up from $16 a year earlier. “We don’t want our employees to be food insecure either,” she said.

“There was a lot of attention nationally during Covid, right, but sadly things haven’t changed and unfortunately just going for the worse, especially with all the inflation,” Ms Osborne said.

Those long lines at food banks at the start of the pandemic, and the catastrophe all at once, may have also done something to allay some of the persistent stigma around emergency food systems.

“I thought it would be a whole bunch of off-brand foods or prepared meals,” said Antaza Boysaw, 24, a certified nursing assistant at a retirement home in the Hartford, Conn., area. Instead, the mother of two young children found her local food pantry offering squash, shrimp, and brown rice.

“You can eat luxury food from the food pantry,” said Ms. Boysaw. “It’s not like you’re going to get the least amount of leftover, expired things.”

She began going to a food pantry in 2021 when she learned her income was too high to qualify for SNAP benefits, sometimes called food stamps, yet she needed to help feed her children. is needed.

“I put on my hat, a big sweater—I didn’t want anyone to see me,” she said of the first time she walked into the food pantry.

Now, as inflation is driving up prices, she is relying on food aid for healthy eating – and is encouraging others to seek help as well.

Ms. Boysaw started posting TIC Toc Video about his positive experience. She would say to a friend: “Don’t be afraid, girl – bring your food! Make sure you go with your ID.”

Other first-time pantry goers made it through the height of pandemic shutdowns without needing such assistance, but inflation is finding it harder to navigate. Ileana LeBron-Cruz, 44, a health coach who also works for dog retreats, lives an hour west of Seattle with her husband, a supervisor at Costco, and their three children. Their combined household income is around $120,000. “We live very much paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

Recently, Ms. LeBron-Cruz found herself looking for free meal options in her area after she unexpectedly spent hundreds of dollars traveling to Oregon after a family emergency.

When she came back home after that trip, she saw her empty fridge. “I get paid on Thursday. It’s Tuesday. I don’t have it,” she said as she felt. He called a food pantry.

“If something happens to inflation the way it is, it’s like a double whammy,” she said. “Six months ago, if that’s what happened, it wouldn’t have been so bad,” she said.

As Ms LeBron-Cruz put it in a . was placed on TIC Toc Video that has been viewed over 390,000 times: “Break the stigma – no need to be embarrassed guys!!!!!” She said she has received some negative reactions to the video, but has also heard from mothers who were in need.

“I’m like, of course, feed your kids,” she said.

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