America's largest food bank struggles to feed people amid a perfect storm of surging food prices and supply chain woes.
Katie Fitzgerald, COO of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that operates more than 200 food banks across the country, told AP News that her network of food banks is already stretched thin due to the unprecedented demand spurred by the virus pandemic downturn in the economy last year. She warned that it has become more difficult for her organization to absorb food inflation, resulting in fewer families being fed this holiday season.
Supply chain disruptions, lower inventory, higher transportation and fuel costs, and labor shortages make matters worse for food banks that millions of people rely on. She said her organization has already swapped out smaller-sized food products or entirely substituted some to stretch the dollar further.
Fitzgerald said soaring food inflation is an "insult to injury" for families who depend on food banks.
Michael Altfest, the San Francisco Bay Area director, the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, said the food bank spends an additional $60k on food per month and is spending $1 million a month to distribute 4.5 million pounds of food.
Altfest said in pre-COVID times. The food bank was spending a quarter of the money to distribute 2.5 million pounds of food. He pointed out prices for canned green beans and peaches are up 9%, canned tuna and frozen tilapia up more than 6%, 5-pound frozen chickens rose 13%, and oatmeal jumped 17%.
New people are showing up every week at the Shiloh Mercy House food pantry in east Oakland despite President Biden promoting his economic success and "build back better" plan.
Soaring food inflation is hurting families: "And a lot of people are just saying they can't afford food," Jason Bautista, the charity's event manager, said.
This comes as consumer prices on Wednesday rose to their highest level in decades. Prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs rose 11.9%, with the sub-index for beef increasing 20.1% and the index for pork rising 14.1%, its most significant 12-month increase since the period ending December 1990.
Oakland resident Sonia Lujan-Perez, 45, pays $2,200 in monthly rent and has no money left to feed her family. She frequents local food banks because food prices have skyrocketed over the past year.
Lujan-Perez said the food bank "is wonderful for me because I will save a lot of money." This Christmas would be "rough" for her two children because she won't afford gifts.
Biden's next political nightmare has already arrived: food inflation. Real wage gains are being wiped out as the cost of everything soars. The souring mood for the president is showing up in polling data.
The Biden administration attempted to counter rising food inflation for the working poor by announcing an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to more than 40 million beneficiaries in August. This means the average monthly benefit increased more than $36 per person, but even that has failed to satisfy the stomachs of millions of hangry Americans.
There's also another problem. Bryan Nichols, vice president of sales for Transnational Foods, which delivers to 100 food banks associated with Feeding America, said sourcing canned food from Asia has become more complex as shortages due to port congestion have materialized. He also said importing canned food from overseas has become incredibly expensive because shipping containers rates have gone from "$4,000 to $18,000" in less than a year.
In Southern Colorado, Care and Share Food Bank's CEO Lynne Telford explains the cost of food products is going through the roof.
Telford said, "the cost for a truckload of peanut butter —40,000 pounds has soared 80% from June 2019 to $51,000 in August. Mac and cheese is up 19% from a year ago, and the wholesale cost of ground beef has increased 5% in three months."
She said her organization is spending more money to make up for the lack of donations, and her other fear is that there won't be enough food for the holidays.
"The other thing is that we're not getting enough holiday food, like stuffing and cranberry sauce. So we have to supplement with other kinds of food, which you know, makes us sad," said Telford, whose food bank fed more than 200,000 people last year.
The data from food banks underscores what many poor working Americans already know. Some of the highest inflation in decades is crushing their budgets as they can barely afford to survive. Such pain in the wallet is making them hangry, coming off a demoralizing pandemic, threatening Biden and the Democrats ahead of midterms next year.