Pay attention to the conversations going on in your supermarket and you will hear people expressing their shock and dismay at the price of a gallon of milk. Or a roast pork. Or a pack of four frozen vegan burgers.
We recently learned that US inflation hit a 31-year high in October. Food prices have also increased the most in decades. Food costs weigh on household budgets, of course. But they also hit nutrition assistance programs like food banks.
These nonprofits have faced higher demand throughout the pandemic – and now their resources are strained even more.
A long line of people stretches across Broadway Boulevard in Albuquerque and ends at the gates of the Storehouse New Mexico, where one of the food bank workers checks people in.
Lots of long-time customers are there for this Friday distribution. Others, like Gwen Nelson, have started coming to the Storehouse recently. “This is my second time,” she said.
Nelson lives on disability benefits which she says typically covers her monthly grocery bill. But since around mid-October, she has had to ask for more help. “Everything is mounted. I had to ask for food stamps, ”Nelson says. “I have to go to a few food banks a month to get by.”
Michael Broward, who is retired and also on a fixed income, also said his benefits had not been so extensive. “I notice that everything is much more expensive.”
A volunteer hands him a box of free groceries, which he says relieves some of the pressure.
“So let’s see what we have,” Broward says. “OK, so it looks like wheat flour, peanut butter.” There are raisins, there are spaghetti. Lots of shelf-stable foods and a few pieces of fruit, but no fresh vegetables.
“Well, when it’s hard for the pantry to get products, they end up going without it,” says Jill Beets, director of communications at Storehouse.
She says the rising cost of food is hitting the organization from all directions. “It’s more expensive and more difficult for us to get items. And because the dollars don’t go that far at the grocery store, we have more customers turning to the pantry for food.
And it all starts with supply chain disruptions.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, farms produce a lot, according to Erkut Sönmez, who studies food supply chains at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
“Farmers have struggled to find labor to harvest their fresh produce. This led to [an] incredible amount of unharvested fresh produce, ”Sönmez said.
Then there is limited capacity to process, package and transport the produce that is harvested – and fierce competition to buy it in bulk.
“There is limited availability. You know, ‘We have apples, but not too many.’ Who is going to have it? he said.
The largest grocery chains have the highest purchasing power. “Then there are the small grocery chains or neighborhood grocers. Then it becomes food banks.
They are stuck at the back of the pack when it comes to buying wholesale. This applies to all foods, not just fruits and vegetables.
Plus, fewer donations are coming in, Sönmez added. Since restaurants and grocery stores cannot stock up as much as they would like, they are managing their inventory more efficiently and have less to give.
“Now it will really be a ration game,” he said.
That hasn’t happened to a ration game at Storehouse New Mexico yet. There are enough donated canned beans, grains, and vegetables to pack in boxes for today’s customers.
“You know, it’s been stable enough that we could feed the households that come in,” Beets says.
But the food bank is not as well stocked for the future as it would like. “Our shelves are normally completely full,” she says. “They’re not that full right now. You can see a lot of walls behind things.
The Storehouse is getting ready for the holidays, Beets adds, when the demand for help tends to increase.