These days, the cost of everything is up, and the Central California Food Bank — like many across the country — is struggling to keep up with demand as more low-income families turn to them for assistance.
Kym Dildine, who is the local food bank’s co-CEO, says she expects more challenges as food prices rise and potential donors struggle to balance their own budgets.
“Food is foundational to strong families and communities, and it’s one of those items that we’re seeing with the highest rates of inflation in more than four decades,” said Dildine.
“The cost of those foods and other essentials like gas and rent are impacting lower-income households that have minimal resources to bridge that gap.”
How Inflation Affects Fresno Families
Dildine says the demand for their resources is rising as families that were recovering from the COVID-19 business shutdown again are needing help.
“We had seen a softening of neighbors needing assistance and that is starting to pick up again,” said Dildine.
“They’re working hard to make choices. Do I buy this or that? Do I fill up my car today or do I buy groceries? Do I refill my prescription or do I buy groceries, you know, just to make ends meet?”
Fresno’s situation is mirrored throughout the United States.
“It does not look like it’s going to get better overnight,” said Katie Fitzgerald, president/CEO for the national food bank network Feeding America. “Demand is really making the supply challenges complex.”
(Inflation rates from July 2021 to July 2022 source: tradingeconomics.com )
Apart from prices going up for canned vegetables, protein, and dairy, some products are hard to get because of supply chain issues. One of those products is peanut butter, which is a healthy protein alternative that doesn’t need to be prepared or cooked, says Dildine.
The food bank receives much of its food inventory from retailers and manufacturers, but certain commodities seem to be harder to find during different times of the year. So, when products are in stock, consumers tend to panic buy.
“It’s just really strange because sometimes it’s like entire food groups are extremely low,” said Dildine. “There are seasons where there’s like only one pasta option instead of just 15 different options or 20 different options they had pre-pandemic,” said Dildine.
Food Bank Faces Huge Demand
Dildine estimates the food bank will provide as much as 52 million pounds of food during the 2023 fiscal year — a bump of 4 million pounds from the previous year.
And, in June, the food bank served more than 300,000 individuals, a 10% increase over pre-pandemic levels.
Coupled with the rising demand: a 40% decrease in federal commodities received.
During the Trump administration, the USDA bought several billions of dollars in pork, apples, dairy, potatoes, and other products in a program that gave most of it to food banks. But the program has ended.
Another temporary USDA “Farmers to Families” program provided more than 155 million food boxes for families in need across the U.S. during the height of the pandemic before ending on May 31 of last year.
“Demand could potentially outpace what we’re able to provide,” said Dildine.
Holiday Season Could Bring Less Grub and Cheer
The food bank has also seen a significant drop in donations.
“We know the financial outlooks aren’t very positive and we do anticipate that it’s going to get worse,” said Dildine. “We are a bit concerned about the holiday season.”
The food bank raises a significant portion of its funding during the holiday season and those could be on the lower end this year.
“So there is a little bit of concern about how those donors are going to be able to support an organization that they love and trust. They just don’t have the additional resources to do so,” said Dildine.
Despite the concerns, Dildine says they are trying to stay top of mind by working with donors at all levels to ensure they can provide the resources the Fresno community needs.