Rising food prices aggravate hunger crisis this holiday season | News, Sports, Jobs

Maria Correa of ​​Washington, center, who says she has cancer, can’t work and things are especially tough because of the pandemic, accepts a Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings at a giveaway annual Thanksgiving Food at the Redeemed Christian Church of God New Wine Assembly, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Washington. photo AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — Staff members at Bread for the City, a venerable charity in the nation’s capital, thought they were ready for this year’s annual pre-Thanksgiving Holiday Helpers food giveaway. The pandemic had subsided, but inflation was high, so they planned to distribute 12,000 meals, 20% more than normal pre-pandemic levels.

But they were quickly overwhelmed, with long lines of customers lining up for hours to receive a free turkey and a $50 debit card for groceries. They were forced to close three days earlier after helping 16,000 people, far more than expected.

“We don’t want to re-traumatize our community by having them wait outside four hours for a turkey,” said Ashley Domm, the charity’s director of development. “We’re not set up to line up hundreds of people on a city street.”

The Bread for the City experience reflects a broader dynamic playing out across the country. What many Americans had hoped would be the first normal holiday season in three years has once again descended into a heightened hunger crisis, with Christmas on the horizon.

A September report from the Urban Institute estimated that about 1 in 5 adults experienced household food insecurity last summer, about the same as in the first year of the pandemic, but a sharp increase from report in spring 2021. Black and Hispanic adults reported higher rates of food insecurity than their white counterparts, according to the report.

“During the pandemic, no one had a job and no one had any money”, said Nancy Murphy, a 45-year-old caregiver who picked up a frozen turkey and groceries last week from a gift at Redeemed Christian Church of God New Wine Assembly in the northeast from Washington. “Now they have resumed their work, but the money does not go far enough. It’s always difficult.

The government estimates that food prices will rise by 9.5% to 10.5% this year. And it’s squeezing the budgets of many Americans and the food banks that have been helping them, especially with the massive influx of pandemic relief aid expiring.

“Inflation was the story of the year,” said Michael Altfest, director of community engagement at the Alameda County Food Bank in Oakland, Calif.

Altfest said the level of community need remains 50% to 70% higher than pre-pandemic levels, and about 30% of calls to the food bank’s emergency helpline come from callers for the first time.

In several cases, charities and food banks had prepared for an increase in numbers due to inflation, only to find that the level of need had greatly exceeded their projections.

The Capital Area Food Bank in Washington originally projected it would distribute about 43 million meals in the July 2022-June 2023 fiscal year. Now, four months into that fiscal year, it is already 22% ahead of these forecasts.

“It was an educated prediction with a good four or five months of information,” said food bank CEO Radha Muthiah. “We always think of Thanksgiving and Christmas as everyone heads to the beach in the summer.”

In Illinois, Jim Conwell of the Greater Chicago Food Bank says the need remains high. “So we buy more and we spend more on what we buy,” he said.

His organization’s network served approximately 30% more households in August 2022, compared to the previous August.

“Families who were just starting to recover on their own are experiencing a whole new challenge or even if they have a job, or have multiple jobs or sources of income, it just doesn’t go as far as there is. two years”, he said.

Higher prices force people to do “sacrifices on their food”, said Altfest.

For example, he says, the price of chicken has more than doubled from 78 cents a pound last year to $1.64 a pound this year. Farm Bureau estimates peg the cost of turkeys 21% higher than last year. And market researcher Datasembly estimates that a 16-ounce can of stuffing costs 14% more than last year, while a 5-pound bag of Russet potatoes costs an average of 45.5% more.

Mike Manning, president of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in Louisiana, distinguishes between rising hunger levels caused by the pandemic and the current crisis. During the pandemic, the jobs and incomes of millions of people have all but disappeared, creating an immediate wave of need that he likened to the aftermath of a hurricane.

But the current crisis has been on a slow and steady climb, starting in late February and continuing to escalate. Manning said his food bank has seen a 10-15% increase in local food insecurity in the past two months alone.

“You’re talking to people on low incomes and working multiple jobs – just think of the cost it costs them to get from job to job, gasoline consuming everything they’re trying to earn” , he said. “What are they going to do? Do they give up gas so they can’t get to work or do they sacrifice food and come back to us asking for help?”

And with no clear signs of when the long-term inflation wave might subside, “It almost feels more like a marathon with no finish line in sight,” said Conwell of the Chicago Food Bank.

Domm is reminiscent of the Bread for the City lines that “just stayed extremely long,” during weeks.

The fact that customers were willing to stay out for hours for a turkey and a debit card says a lot about “the intensity and depth of the need”, she says.

Domm also thinks there’s a psychological element to it; after two consecutive pandemic-distorted holiday seasons, families are intensely eager for something closer to normal.

“People have been avoiding their families for the past two years. So this year there’s more pressure to really do the grocery shopping and have a group meal,” she says.

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