Nearly 500 families registered to participate Thursday as more families turn to food pantries like the WOFB to supplement their budgets, a larger share of which are now dedicated to basics like gas, rent and food.
Grocery prices alone have increased by 8.6% in the last year, according to the Labor Department’s latest consumer price index report released Friday.
But food banks are struggling to keep up with inflation too.
‘We may need to reevaluate’
The WOFB has seen a 13% increase in families visiting its food pantries and distributions since last July. So many families are now seeking help that the food bank, which serves an 11-county area, is requiring them to register before attending distributions at its Kibby Street location.
“These families may have never needed food assistance in the past, but now over 8,700 new families have been to one of our partner agencies or came through a distribution to receive food over the past 11 months,” said Tommie Harner, CEO of the WOFB.
There are grandparents raising their grandchildren and parents whose adult children have moved back in, Harner said.
But food banks are seeing fewer donations even as their expenses are surging.
Products that once cost 42 cents per pound are now going for $1.04 a pound, Harner said.
Other needed items like protein and shelf-stable produce aren’t available at all. In the past five months, Harner said 250 truckloads of USDA products her partner agencies needed have been cancelled.
The food bank has in turn had to move distributions and alter its offerings—less fruit, less meat—to accommodate everyone seeking assistance.
“If things don’t change,” Harner said, “we may have to reevaluate all of the distributions that we’re providing to make sure that our pantries are receiving the food they need to serve the clients that are coming through their doors each week.”
Housing crisis fuels food insecurity
“People can’t afford the basics,” said Jackie Fox, CEO of the West Ohio Community Action Partnership, which suspended applications for its rental assistance program in May due to lack of funding.
It was bad timing for renters: Fox estimates that renters here are seeing rent hikes of $200 to $300 per month, sometimes higher. Many of her clients spend 60% or more of their income on rent, she said.
“So if we can pay people’s rent, a lot of times they can afford auto insurance and get food on the table,” Fox said. “That’s what we tried to do.”
While WOCAP will resume its rental assistance program if funding is renewed, the agency is still operating its usual utility and summer crisis assistance programs, among others.
“Almost every application we get nowadays, the explanation from the client is: it’s hard for me to afford food and utilities and rent and gas,” Fox said.
Harner said the WOFB is in need of monetary and food donations, particularly large-scale donations from manufacturers with excess or mislabeled products.
Volunteers are also needed to pack boxes and work food distributions.
“Not everybody has the ability to give financial aid or they may not have the ability to donate food,” Harner said, “but if they have the ability to volunteer their time that’s just as valuable to us.”