Inflation Escalates Hunger

Inflation escalates hunger

As the cost of groceries increases, so does food insecurity

By Amber Wright, Marketing

Most of us have already experienced the shock of inflation. Whether it was after ringing up the usual staples at the grocery store or at the gas pump, prices have increased all around.

Inflated prices means inflated need. Many Americans are finding their normal wages cannot stretch as far as they used to. To mitigate these financial challenges, many individuals and families turn to nonprofit organizations, like food banks, to provide the services needed to supplement their income. Yet the nonprofits comprising the social safety net are subject to the same economic circumstances as individuals. For this blog, we will look at the impacts of inflation and what it means for our organization.

Several causes have been credited as contributing factors to the current economic conditions. Much discussion has centered around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and even instances of corporate profiteering. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the most obvious factor. Global shutdowns and labor shortages disrupted supply chains across the world. The Federal Stimulus package, while crucial to economic survival, caused demand to remain high while production was down. When demand outweighs supply, prices go up.

22 million jobs were cut from the U.S. economy during the pandemic. While most of those numbers have since been restored, inflation had already taken hold. Online commerce data shows consumers spent roughly $32 billion more for the same goods over the past two years.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has made its own impact on the global market. The two countries are major contributors of goods such as oil, gasoline, metals, fertilizers, wheat, corn, and soy. This disrupts countless goods and services that require any of those items for production. In addition to problems fueled by conflict, sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and other countries have further complicated matters.

Some speculate corporate greed is also playing a role. Manuel Bojorquez, a writer for CBS News, exemplified this with data gathered from Tyson, one of the four “meat giants” controlling 85% of the market. He demonstrated how the company was able to increase profits by 48% since 2021. Even after compensating for rising costs and increased wages, they are still making more money while average families struggle with inflation. Other businesses in the industry show similar results.

It is worth noting that Tyson, like many other corporations, have raised pay for workers by 20%. This is a common trend culminating in the fastest average wage increase in 15 years. The problem is that inflation still overshadows these gains, resulting in paychecks being worth nearly 2% less in terms of purchasing power.

 The White House has expressed that inflation is typical following a pandemic and that this has been seen before in American history. The unfortunate timing of the Russia-Ukraine war has exacerbated issues, but measures are being taken to control the long-term outcome. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates in order to quell economic growth, and therefore demand, until the supply is regulated. Unfortunately, it takes time for this to take effect. In the meantime, consumers can expect higher costs in the form of credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans and other forms of borrowing money.

 

Key Points of Inflation

The current Consumer Price Index shows that inflation has risen 8.5% over the last year, which is the fastest rate seen in more than four decades. In April, it was estimated to cost the average American household an extra $327 a month to maintain their standard of living. The main areas dramatically affected include necessities such as food, fuel, and materials like metal and plastic that are found in packaging of nearly all retail items.

Food costs have repeatedly risen since 2020 and it is anticipated that this trend will continue. CNBC compared the current price for household grocery staples to costs last year. These essential items have jumped in price at the following rates over the last year:

Flour and prepared flour mixes: 14.2%
Butter and margarine: 14%
Meat, poultry and fish: 13.8%
Milk: 13.3%
Eggs: 11.2%
Fresh fruits: 10.1%
Bread: 7.1%
Fresh vegetables: 5.9%

Similarly, fuel has seen an extreme increase with crude oil at a staggering 70.1% annual increase and gasoline seeing a 48% price hike. Similar trends can be found among other forms of energy with electricity costs spiking 11.1%. Raw materials are another area suffering steep upticks. While prices are continuing to fluctuate, steel has seen a 74.4% increase and lumber an increase of 79.5% in cost over the previous year.

 

What This Means for Us and the Neighbors We Serve

As we all adjust our spending to compensate for various spikes in prices, we know the people most greatly affected are those already walking a financial tightrope. Low wages, redlining, discrimination, and other root causes of poverty have prevented many individuals from surviving without some way to supplement their income, even prior to the pandemic. Inflation is intensifying the problem.

The cessation of pandemic-related assistance programs has further reduced support for many. It is reasonable to assume that inflation is knocking more families into a financial crisis without these supplemental benefits. Like most food banks, we are seeing an increase in families served at our distribution sites, and we anticipate numbers will grow when the Public Health Emergency SNAP allotments end in the months ahead.

Need for food assistance is on the rise, and so are purchasing costs.  About 65% of Feeding America food banks reported seeing a greater demand in March from the month before. While these organizations are buying the same amount of food this year compared to 2021, it is costing roughly 40% more.

Our non-profit is enduring similar trends. For example, an 8.45 oz. white milk used for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program cost us 50 cents apiece in September 2021. We were able to order 32,400 (totaling $16,200.) Just five months later in February 2022 the price increased to almost 63 cents apiece. At that price, securing the same amount increased more than $4,000.

Another example is the Honey Pepper Beef Sticks we also purchase for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program. This shelf stable, ready-to-eat source of protein is an important piece of our kid-friendly food packs. In August of 2021 we purchased 30,240 at 48 cents apiece (totaling about $14,515.) In February 2022 the price went up to 52 cents apiece, and so did our purchase for 68,544 (totaling about $35,643.) If the same amount had been purchased, it still would have cost over a thousand dollars more.

Another trend we are seeing among food banks is a decrease in donated product. Retailers are forced to tighten their spending as they are confronted with the same economic conditions. Labor shortages and supply chain issues disrupt their product flow as well. As a result, food donations are not as robust as they once were. Feeding America reported a 20% decrease in donations from food manufacturers and 45% less provision from the federal government for fiscal year 2022.

 Accommodating a greater need can require additional time and space. Anyone who has waited in our Drive Thru distribution already knows that the wait times are getting longer, but we have remained to serve every car in line. We will continue to do so, rain or shine, as long as the need exists. Supply chain issues may not afford us the ability to purchase the items we want, but we will always provide the best within our means to create a well-rounded offering of food to our partners and customers.

Our warehouse is currently in the process of expanding to store and distribute more food. The current building had already reached max capacity with a yearly distribution of nearly 18 million pounds of food each year. While this process was underway before inflation got out of hand, we will continue to invest the time and money it requires to address increased food insecurity. The more food we can store, the more we can distribute.

 We are committed to meeting the need in our community no matter what challenges we face. We have done so through a pandemic, tornados, and a county-wide water crisis, and we will do it again. We have honed the ability to pivot and adjust to the circumstances at hand. Our staff is rich with talent, compassion, and dedication, which will allow us to overcome obstacles in the path to fulfilling our mission. As we navigate the changing economic climate, we will remain firm in our efforts toward equity so that we can end hunger and its root causes. With the continued support of businesses and community members, we can weather whatever storm may lay ahead.


Volunteering at The Foodbank: 101

Volunteering at The Foodbank: 101

Everything you need to know before a volunteer shift

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, Volunteer/Intake Support

Volunteers are the heart of The Foodbank. They are critical to our operations by helping us pack boxes, harvesting crops and maintaining our Urban Garden, and staffing each of our distributions. In March of 2020, due to COVID-19 safety concerns, we had to make the difficult decision to pause our volunteer program. As of July 1, 2021 we have officially relaunched our volunteer program with mask and social distancing requirements in order to keep safety our top priority. We are so excited to see all of your smiling faces again!

Whether you’re a company, organization, family, or someone looking for community service hours, we have plenty of options to choose from! Volunteering at The Foodbank is a great way to make connections and make a direct impact on our community.

We’ve broken down the process in this easy to follow guide, and give you some pointers along the way.

Step one: Logging in and Signing Up

When you visit the Volunteer page on our website, you can see all of our opportunities on our host site, Volunteer Matters.

If you’ve volunteered with us before, you know what to do from here. If you’re new here, you’ll need to create an account so we can get your name, emergency contact, and other basic information from you.

While we accept volunteers of all ages, you must be at least 14 years old to work in our warehouse or drive thru, and anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a guardian. Additionally, we ask that you wear close-toed shoes for safety reasons. 

Step two: Picking Your Event

Once you’ve logged in or signed up, you will be taken to the Volunteer Matters homepage. By clicking on “Project Catalog” on the left hand side, you’ll be able to see all of our events.

Each opportunity has a general description of the volunteer role available. For example, if you decide you’d like to work in our drive thru, click “Learn More” where you can see all of the dates and times available. To sign up, just click “Volunteer!”

A few things to note before signing up for your shift:

  • All mobile pantries are held outside, so please remember to dress for the weather and keep yourself hydrated! 
  • Mass distributions are also outside, usually consisting of longer shifts, but are a whole lot of fun! Dress for the weather and make sure to take water and snack breaks.
  • Warehouse opportunities, the drive thru, mobile pantries, and mass distributions can include some heavy lifting. Though we do distribute lightweight items, please keep this in mind. 
  • Restrooms may not be available at some of our mobile pantry locations.
  • Be sure to wear your close-toed shoes to all volunteer opportunities.
  • Use hashtags #hungerhero and #canyoudigit on any social media posts you make!

Step 3: Coming Prepared for Your Shift

Be sure to arrive on time prepared to work for the entirety of your shift. If you are signed up for a mobile pantry or mass distribution, you’ll need to find our volunteer team to make sure you get signed in. If you’re on site to work in our warehouse, urban garden, or drive thru, you will sign in at the front door. 

After you are signed in, a member of our team will assign you a task depending on which event you signed up for. For example, you could be assigned to the food line handing out various items or helping direct traffic. Our volunteer team is great about making sure you find the opportunity that is the best fit for you!

If you need paperwork signed for required community service hours, make sure to check in with our volunteer team before you leave. 

We always encourage you to ask us questions and learn more about the impact you’re making no matter what volunteer experience you choose. Above all, we want you to HAVE FUN when you’re with us. Volunteering is hard work, but there is nothing better than hearing your laughter while talking to each other and engaging with clients.

Still have questions? Give us a call at 937-461-0265 ext. 27 or check out our Youtube video to learn more.


How our partnership with Feeding America helps us invest in our capacity

How our partnership with Feeding America helps us invest in our capacity

In the past year, we have received over $800,000 in grant funding from Feeding America

By: Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

There is one thing we are certain about: Hunger in the United States is a national problem that takes national solutions. We are grateful to be one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network.

Our membership with this organization comes with several perks, including national grant opportunities, shared knowledge from other thought leaders across the network, and emerging research from the Feeding America National Office’s (FANO) research team.

This partnership has been especially fruitful during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed food banks across the nation to adapt to surging demand for food in our communities.

Here is our breakdown of three ways we have leveraged funding from FANO to better serve our neighbors:

  1. Expanding our building to accommodate more staff.

With help from grant funding from Feeding America, we recently completed an expansion of our office space to accommodate our growing staff. Our current facility was designed to process about 15 million pounds of food annually. Even prior to the pandemic, we were already operating over this capacity, distributing over 16 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2019.

The pandemic added fuel to this fire by forcing us to send home our volunteers due to limited space for social distancing. Our Foodbank Family has grown from around 25 full time staff to over 50 in less than two years. We needed to hire new team members — but where would we put them?

To solve this problem, we renovated our office space to add space for 11 employees. With this additional space, we have been able to expand our mobile food distribution and volunteer management teams.

Significantly, we have also been able to direct Feeding America grant funding to the salaries of these staff, which has helped us to meet the demand in our community without the help of our volunteers. Last fiscal year, we distributed almost 18 million pounds of food.

2. Expanding our truck fleet.

As we have mentioned in a previous blog post, a large portion of the food in our warehouse comes from our food rescue program. Our truck drivers travel to 42 different retail stores every week to rescue food from their back docks.

In order to reach all of these donors, we have to have the right trucking fleet to get the job done. We also use our truck fleet to make food deliveries to agencies and host Mobile Farmer’s Markets. Thanks to Feeding America, we have been able to expand our trucking operations in the past year  by purchasing a new truck with FANO funding.

We are not the only organization that has benefitted from the expansion of our truck fleet: Last year, we raffled off one of our older vehicles to our partner agencies. This is the first time we have been able to hold a truck giveaway for our partner agencies. In this way, we can invest in the greater hunger relief network of our community.

3. Standing up new mobile pantry locations in areas with high food insecurity.

In partnership with the University of Dayton, we used FANO grant funding to pay for a Service Gap Map. While this study revealed 97% coverage of food insecure individuals in our area, it did identify some pockets in which clients were geographically distant from services.

In response to these findings, we decided to stand up temporary mobile food distributions in these areas identified as underserved. So far, we have begun monthly food distributions at the following locations: Vandalia, Englewood, and Yellow Springs.

These food distributions were made possible by pass-through grant funding from Feeding America and an anonymous donor. Every mobile pantry distribution costs $2,500 in staffing, trucking, food repacking materials, and other expenses.

We could not do the work that we do without the partnership of the Feeding America Network and their dedication to solving hunger across the nation. We are grateful for the expertise they provide in helping us better serve the Miami Valley.

 

 


How Foodbanking has Changed

How Foodbanking has Changed

Three ways foodbanking has changed in the COVID-19 era

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

Over the course of the pandemic, there have been news stories across the nation of long food bank lines and an increase in demand like we have never seen before. But the nature of foodbanking has not always looked like this.

While we have all been adapting to a “new normal” at work and at home, those of us in foodbanking have also shifted the way we operate. We believe many of these changes are here to stay. Here are the top four ways foodbanking has changed in the COVID-19 era.

1. Food banks have had to shift emphasis to a direct service model.

Generally, we serve families in the community through two programming “buckets”. The first bucket is the distribution of food to partner agencies, which include 116 food pantries, hot meal sites, and other hunger relief agencies in the Miami Valley. This bucket is codified in our mission statement: “The Foodbank relieves hunger in the community through a network of partner agencies by acquiring and distributing food.”

However, there are some areas that have fewer resources. The second programming “bucket,” direct service, comprises interventions we make in those areas to meet any gaps. These include Mobile Farmers Markets, Mass Food Distributions, our on-site Drive Thru Food Pantry, and programs targeted to vulnerable demographics, such as our Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, or Senior Food Box program).

At the height of the pandemic, our area saw an estimated 28% increase in reported food insecurity. At the same time, about 40% of our partner agencies were forced to suspend services due to a variety of difficulties, such as the closure of their facilities or the health concerns of their older, high-risk volunteer base. Some of these agencies still have yet to reopen.

In response, we have drastically increased service through our Drive Thru and Mass Distributions. In calendar year 2020, the number of people served through our Drive Thru more than doubled compared to the previous year, while the total number of people served by our agency pantries increased less than 5%.

 

2. Food banks have invested in capacity across the board 

With a significant increase in demand, many food banks have had to make large investments in their infrastructure in order to keep up. Our warehouse was built in 2014 and was designed to process up to 10 million pounds of food annually. We have consistently exceeded that amount, distributing 17.9 million pounds last fiscal year

To support this increased distribution of food, we have had to make significant investments in our capacity. In the past year, we have unveiled two new trucks and expanded our headquarters to accommodate additional staffing. We have grown from a team of just over 20 people to more than 50 strong.

Thankfully, donations from the public and grants have enabled us and other food banks to make these necessary expansions. Our partnership with Feeding America, the national network of food banks, has been more beneficial than ever this past year: To date, we have received over $1 million in COVID-19 related funding through Feeding America, much of it directed to improving our capacity.

Because the Foodbank originated as a Red Cross subsidiary, the foundation of our service model is disaster relief. We have a Disaster Plan in effect that allows us to respond quickly and efficiently to both local and national disasters. With the infrastructure improvements we have made in the past year, we will be better equipped to respond to disasters in the future.

 

3. Food banks are expanding services with an equity lens

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, food banks across the US released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Simultaneously, the COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on the health disparities between communities of color and the white community. We and other food banks are taking steps to operationalize a more equity-focused mission.

The Foodbank values all people without judgement. We are not new to equity work. We deliberately hire and cultivate a diverse staff that includes people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, and people from various other backgrounds. We actively recruit team members who have previously been incarcerated. About one third of our current Foodbank team joined this hunger relief work after exiting the criminal justice system.

While systemic racism and inequality may be a new topic for some individuals in the nonprofit sector, it is a familiar reality to many of the people in our lines. We understand that racism is a contributing factor to differences in food insecurity among white and nonwhite households. African Americans are more than twice as likely to experience hunger in the United States.

In addition to participating in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion training, we are taking steps to build equity into our services. The Foodbank recently participated in a service gap map with the University of Dayton. This research study allows us to pinpoint communities that have fewer available resources. In a service territory that is still largely segregated, this is a valuable tool to assess how well we are serving diverse communities.

We are eager to learn and share more about EDI work as we continue down this path.

While 2020 was an immensely difficult year, the lessons learned and long-term investments made will help us to be more resilient, innovative, and adaptable in the future. Down the line, we hope to see a future in which hunger is not a reality for millions of Americans.

To learn more about or work, read our community impact statement here.