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Food prices hurt food pantries

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WORLD Radio - Food prices hurt food pantries

With the cost of food going up, it’s becoming harder to help those in need


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MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 20th of September, 2022.

You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re happy you’ve joined us today! Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: food and inflation.

High food prices are hitting everyone, including food pantries. One in six Americans relies on charitable food. But higher operating costs and supply chain problems make it more difficult for food pantries to meet escalating demand.

WORLD’S Addie Offereins reports.

AUDIO: [SUSAN DESCRIBING INVENTORY]

ADDIE OFFEREINS, REPORTER: Susan Schaffer spends a lot of her time checking the inventory of Reveal Resource Center in Cedar Park, Texas. Schaffer started as executive director of the food pantry last year, after six years of volunteering.

The food pantry is open on Monday nights from 7 to 8 and Tuesday mornings from 9 to noon. Bright orange cones direct the cars through the church parking lot. Volunteers pack cardboard boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, and bags full of dry goods. They load the food onto green carts and into the trunk or backseat.

SCHAFFER: So if you come here on a Monday night, the line actually goes to 183 from up the hill all the way around to 183. Because of the current food crisis that we're in.

Once clients make it through the traffic, Schaeffer takes the time to talk to them before they pick up their food.

SCHAFFER: They're having to make a decision on whether to, you know, buy medical supplies or pay their doctor bills or pay their rent or buy food.

The number of people in need has climbed since 2020.

SCHAFFER: So before we were serving, like 75, on a Monday night, and now we're at 240 on a Monday night.

The food pantry gets food that’s about to expire from local stores. It also receives donations from private food drives or from someone’s personal pantry. The ministry orders some items from the Central Texas Food Bank.

SCHAFFER: So when we first started, there’s four sheets of food that you could choose from. Now it's one sheet of food that you could choose from. Our numbers are just astronomical to the point where we ran out of food and we had to buy food to give to the people…

The food pantry hasn’t seen tomato sauce in a while because of supply chain problems. Last month the center ran out of black beans—a key staple in its bags of dry goods.

SCHAFFER: That was about $2,000 that we had to spend. Now, as a matter of fact, our next board meeting, we're going to be talking about maybe cutting back what we give to the clients.

Central Texas Food Bank partners with about 250 smaller organizations, including Reveal (the food pantry). Together they serve 21 counties and feed over 400,000 food insecure individuals.

Sari Vatske is the president and CEO.

VATSKE: Supply chain issues are definitely impacting the organization, the same way that the global supply chain is impacting grocers and retailers and consumers. There's longer wait times even if we do purchase food

Not only that, as more people order groceries online, stores are running their inventories more efficiently. That means fewer donations for food banks.

AUDIO: [FOOD PANTRY]

At the same time, food pantries are noticing a new crowd showing up in line. Last year, the federal government expanded SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Program. But many of the new food pantry visitors make too much money to qualify or aren’t interested in a federal program. Again, Susan Schaeffer:

SCHAEFFER: They make just enough money. And then with the increasing gas and with the increase of food? They just can't afford everything anymore.

Director Haley Calabro has noticed a similar trend at St. Augustine Wellston Center, another food pantry in St. Louis, Mo.

CALABRO: Definitely some more families who never thought they would have used a food pantry before we really tried to break that stigma of using it. We're there if you need it.

She saw numbers jump during the pandemic. Then, the number of families plateaued to about 600 a month, and even more families arrived as inflation got worse. Last month they served about 700 individuals. A month before that? Almost 900. Rising prices make it hard to meet the demand.

CALABRO: We would purchase groceries so under at least under $7,000 per month and two months ago we spent $17,000

Some advocates argue the government should take the pressure off food pantries by expanding SNAP benefits. Scott Centorino is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. He says the solution is not more government spending, but more work.

CENTORINO: So obviously, the best thing that can happen to help families who are dealing with food insecurity, which is real for a lot of folks, is a reduction in inflation, and any increase in public assistance is counterproductive to that effort.

Instead, he argues organizations should help individuals take advantage of the tight labor market by working more hours in higher paying jobs.

That’s what Kevin Peyton is trying to do in South Lebanon, Ohio. His organization, Joshua’s Place, turned its food pantry into a cooperative. It does more than just hand out food. Members pay $5 every time they come, and they are required to meet with a mentor.

PEYTON: And the third thing is to take at least one developmental course throughout that membership year. So we offer faith and finances, health and wellness, and parenting classes. We talk about symptoms and sources. The lack of food is a symptom, the sources are a much deeper issue.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Addie Offereins.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 20th of September, 2022.

You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re happy you’ve joined us today! Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: food and inflation.

High food prices are hitting everyone, including food pantries. One in six Americans relies on charitable food. But higher operating costs and supply chain problems make it more difficult for food pantries to meet escalating demand.

WORLD’S Addie Offereins reports.

AUDIO: [SUSAN DESCRIBING INVENTORY]

ADDIE OFFEREINS, REPORTER: Susan Schaffer spends a lot of her time checking the inventory of Reveal Resource Center in Cedar Park, Texas. Schaffer started as executive director of the food pantry last year, after six years of volunteering.

The food pantry is open on Monday nights from 7 to 8 and Tuesday mornings from 9 to noon. Bright orange cones direct the cars through the church parking lot. Volunteers pack cardboard boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, and bags full of dry goods. They load the food onto green carts and into the trunk or backseat.

SCHAFFER: So if you come here on a Monday night, the line actually goes to 183 from up the hill all the way around to 183. Because of the current food crisis that we're in.

Once clients make it through the traffic, Schaeffer takes the time to talk to them before they pick up their food.

SCHAFFER: They're having to make a decision on whether to, you know, buy medical supplies or pay their doctor bills or pay their rent or buy food.

The number of people in need has climbed since 2020.

SCHAFFER: So before we were serving, like 75, on a Monday night, and now we're at 240 on a Monday night.

The food pantry gets food that’s about to expire from local stores. It also receives donations from private food drives or from someone’s personal pantry. The ministry orders some items from the Central Texas Food Bank.

SCHAFFER: So when we first started, there’s four sheets of food that you could choose from. Now it's one sheet of food that you could choose from. Our numbers are just astronomical to the point where we ran out of food and we had to buy food to give to the people…

The food pantry hasn’t seen tomato sauce in a while because of supply chain problems. Last month the center ran out of black beans—a key staple in its bags of dry goods.

SCHAFFER: That was about $2,000 that we had to spend. Now, as a matter of fact, our next board meeting, we're going to be talking about maybe cutting back what we give to the clients.

Central Texas Food Bank partners with about 250 smaller organizations, including Reveal (the food pantry). Together they serve 21 counties and feed over 400,000 food insecure individuals.

Sari Vatske is the president and CEO.

VATSKE: Supply chain issues are definitely impacting the organization, the same way that the global supply chain is impacting grocers and retailers and consumers. There's longer wait times even if we do purchase food

Not only that, as more people order groceries online, stores are running their inventories more efficiently. That means fewer donations for food banks.

AUDIO: [FOOD PANTRY]

At the same time, food pantries are noticing a new crowd showing up in line. Last year, the federal government expanded SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Program. But many of the new food pantry visitors make too much money to qualify or aren’t interested in a federal program. Again, Susan Schaeffer:

SCHAEFFER: They make just enough money. And then with the increasing gas and with the increase of food? They just can't afford everything anymore.

Director Haley Calabro has noticed a similar trend at St. Augustine Wellston Center, another food pantry in St. Louis, Mo.

CALABRO: Definitely some more families who never thought they would have used a food pantry before we really tried to break that stigma of using it. We're there if you need it.

She saw numbers jump during the pandemic. Then, the number of families plateaued to about 600 a month, and even more families arrived as inflation got worse. Last month they served about 700 individuals. A month before that? Almost 900. Rising prices make it hard to meet the demand.

CALABRO: We would purchase groceries so under at least under $7,000 per month and two months ago we spent $17,000

Some advocates argue the government should take the pressure off food pantries by expanding SNAP benefits. Scott Centorino is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. He says the solution is not more government spending, but more work.

CENTORINO: So obviously, the best thing that can happen to help families who are dealing with food insecurity, which is real for a lot of folks, is a reduction in inflation, and any increase in public assistance is counterproductive to that effort.

Instead, he argues organizations should help individuals take advantage of the tight labor market by working more hours in higher paying jobs.

That’s what Kevin Peyton is trying to do in South Lebanon, Ohio. His organization, Joshua’s Place, turned its food pantry into a cooperative. It does more than just hand out food. Members pay $5 every time they come, and they are required to meet with a mentor.

PEYTON: And the third thing is to take at least one developmental course throughout that membership year. So we offer faith and finances, health and wellness, and parenting classes. We talk about symptoms and sources. The lack of food is a symptom, the sources are a much deeper issue.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Addie Offereins.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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