Inflation, shipping delays, supply-chain issues, pandemic lockdowns, and labor shortages have contributed to price increases and scarcities that have now started affecting food banks across the country, on which the most vulnerable population depends during difficult circumstances.
“The recovery is going to be very, very long and steep for families who are typically reliant on food banks,” said Michael Altfest, director of community engagement at the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, California, to The Associated Press. Food banks have started catering to a new category of customers, according to Altfest—families who have never depended on such institutions but have been driven over the financial edge by the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on this year’s holiday season does not bode well for those already suffering from food insecurities. Turkey prices have seen a 70 percent hike over the past year. Tracy Engel, director of the River Valley Regional Food Bank in Fort Smith, said to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (ADG) that this was the worst Thanksgiving she had seen during her seven years of service.
“At this time last year, we had about 1,000 turkeys rolling into the food bank for our member pantries,” Engel said to ADG. “And at this time, today, we have five turkeys in our freezer. So instead of turkey and dressing this year, it might be chicken and dressing.” She also mentioned that the food bank was unable to secure enough supplies of canned yams, pumpkin and cranberry sauce for this year’s holiday boxes.
With 169 partners spread over eight counties, the River Valley Regional Food Bank serves about 94,000 people on a monthly basis. Engel said that there was a donation of turkeys due from Kansas but was not sure whether it would arrive on time owing to supply chain issues.
Over in Kansas, the Kansas Food Bank (KFB) is asking for volunteer help and more donations amidst what the organizers predict could be the busiest holiday season in years.
“We’re not out of food,” said KFB CEO Brian Walker to KAKE News, “But … we have a lot of empty slots in our warehouse.”
Logistical problems have hit the food bank hard with supplies heading first to retailers before reaching food banks. The number of people who need help has only gone up, according to Walker. “Our distribution is up 40 percent from the start of the pandemic, and even though things seems to be getting better, we aren’t seeing that demand decrease.”
Feeding Northeast Florida supplies food to almost 240,000 people spread over eight counties. Sarah Hall, a director at Feeding Northeast Florida, said to WOKV media that the mix of food items they are getting are different from what they usually receive. This is due to supply chain disruptions that have caused an increase in prices and availability shortages.
Jamie Sizemore, executive director of Feeding America – Kentucky’s Heartland, said that people have started skipping out on fresh produce and meat, and instead are depending more on highly processed, non-perishable foods, according to City Beat Kentucky (CBK).
The number of families seeking help had gone up. “This time period right now, we’re seeing definite resurgence of struggle with families,” said Sizemore to CBK. “Especially families with children. Because there’s just such a high demand for these items and they have gone up in cost.”
The food bank supply chain includes manufacturers, farmers, grocery chains and food drives. “But right now, the food is not getting turned over as quickly because it’s taking so long to get the food to our distribution points and then back out to our food pantries,” said director George Young, from the Greenville branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, to WITN.
With the Consumer Price Index rising 6.2 percent, the most since 1990, consumers are feeling the pinch. “There’s multiple factors challenging us presently,” said Young to WITN. “When the consumers are having the same issue, they ask themselves, ‘Am I going to provide for my family or am I going to donate some food to the food bank?’”