CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Greater Cleveland Food Bank is dealing with higher levels of food insecurity, and it’s getting more expensive to fill that need.
The food it buys, the packaging it puts items in and the freight costs to move it all have all risen.
The cost of turkeys alone for the Food Bank are up 25% since ahead of the pandemic, to $12.79 per turkey. The price of most everything else from peanut butter to corn muffin mixes are up as well.
Meanwhile, the hardships from COVID-19 sent many people to the food bank for the first time.
Kristin Warzocha, CEO and President at the food bank, said the agency plans to spend $25 million over five years responding to COVID-19. All that’s possible because of donations.
“Northeast Ohio has been a generous community that wants to make sure no one goes hungry,” Warzocha said.
Higher prices are hitting everyone. In October the consumer price index rose 6.2%, the highest year increase in 31 years. Food prices are up about 5.3% overall.
The Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s budget is $37 million for the year ahead, up from $24 million is fiscal 2019.
But the food bank stretches a dollar farther than most people can, by having partnerships with manufactures, stores and farmers.
In a normal year about half of the Food Bank’s food is donated, Warzocha said. The USDA buys surplus food from farmers and delivers it to food banks, and then agencies buy to fill in the gaps.
In fiscal 2019 (October 2018 through September 2019), Warzocha said the Food Bank bought 8% of its food. But when shoppers rushed to grocery stores, donations were cut in half.
“That meant in a time of sky rocketing need we had to buy product to make up for that decrease,” Warzocha said.
The Food Bank bought 6.4 million pounds of its own food in fiscal 2020, accounting for 12% of what it distributed. Those totals rose to 9.7 million pounds and 18% of total distributions in fiscal 2021.
And the food isn’t getting cheaper, despite buying it early and by the case or even truckload.
A jar a peanut butter that cost $1.02 two years ago is now costing the Food Bank $1.46, Warzocha said.
A case of mac & cheese is $7.55, up from $6.25 in 2019. Corn muffin mix is $8.54 a case, up from $7.39.
The six truckloads of turkeys the foodbank bought this year — about 21,120 birds — averaged out to $12.79 a bird, up from $10.23 in 2019. This is while doubling the amount of turkeys it bought.
On average, a pound of food costs 79 cents, up from 67 cents.
And the “free” food is more expensive too. When the food bank receives donations, like a truck of cereal from Michigan, it often has to pay for freight. Warzocha said freight costs are up 30% to 40%.
Warzocha said the food bank is buying months in advance sometimes to lock in prices. The turkey order was placed in April. But often, distributors are saying they’re out of things or they don’t have the packaging needed to send it.
She said the food bank has worked to not pass along costs to the 1,000 organizations in its six-county network. They’ve removed handling fees, provided hundreds of thousands of emergency food boxes and made grants available.
Warzocha said 400,000 people were served by the network in fiscal 2020, up from roughly 300,000 the year before. Need went down in 2021, with 343,000 served, though still above pre-pandemic levels.
Much of the $25 million will be frontloaded, she said, with $19 million being spent in 2020, 2021 and fiscal 2022, which just kicked off.
She said the “silver lining” of this pandemic has been the way the community supported the food bank.
“It has been an incredibly challenging time, but, I am just so proud of our team and our community and our parents for how they’ve stepped up,” Warzocha said.
Anyone who wants to help by donating of volunteering at the food bank can visit greaterclevelandfoodbank.org.
People in need of food can visit the Food Bank’s website, or call 216-738-2067 or visit the food bank from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The food bank is at 15500 South Waterloo Road in Cleveland.