Food banks struggle to cope with inflation and increased demand

Donations down, prices and need both up

About 100 local food pantries depend on the Worcester County Food Bank for supplies, and, at the moment, the organization can meet those demands.

“If you look around the warehouse, we have plenty of food,” said CEO Jean McMurray. “We never run out of food.”

But these days, the power to buy food has diminished. Inflation is running at its highest level since the food bank opened in 1982, McMurray said.

“We are in a historic period of inflation,” she said. “And on top of the pandemic, it just feels like one more thing.”

But, actually, food banks and pantries are dealing with another couple of things.

First, an increase in demand.

“The number of people seeking assistance through our food pantry network has increased about 12 percent,” McMurray said. “We currently distribute food to about 100 food pantries in Worcester County, and they report the number of people they are serving on a monthly basis. And across the board, everyone is saying that they’re seeing more and more people.”

And it’s an unusual influx – coming at a time when the unemployment rate is low. In fact, some new food pantry clients are holding down jobs.

“This is inflation,” said Catherine D’Amato, CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank, the state’s largest. “This is the dollar’s tightened. The market has tightened.”

Second, food banks are experiencing a drop in donations.

“Food donations have dropped 20 percent, and we’ve seen financial donations decrease about 46 percent,” McMurray said.

But McMurray said in the food bank business, it’s the timing of shortfalls that’s important – meaning some months are better than others.

“We never run out of food,” she said. “And while financial donations are down, we’re experiencing what a lot of companies are in terms of staff shortages.”

Fewer employees means lowered expenses for the food bank.

The Greater Boston Food Bank is experiencing similar pressures. D’Amato says donations are “softening.”

“Where we are most feeling it is the cost of food,” said D’Amato. “We bought turkeys wholesale for under a dollar a pound last year. They’re $1.58 a pound now and going up. But you’re seeing it in transportation. Loads of foods coming in. They’re delayed. Not enough truck drivers Cost of diesel. Diesel has also doubled. "

To make donated dollars go further, GBFB will likely buy fewer turkeys this year – and more food that can be sourced locally, to save on shipping costs.

“We’re going to be buying a lot of apples in Massachusetts, for example,” D’Amato said.

Unfortunately, aside from apples, Massachusetts is not a major food producer.

“Massachusetts imports 87 to 88 percent of its food,” D’Amato said. “We’re not an agricultural state. Therefore, anything we bring in is going to be more expensive.”

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