Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry in Utah used to assist 130 families weekly. Now, over 200 families turn to it each week.
The pantry, in Spanish Fork, Utah, joins thousands of food banks across the country in experiencing rising demand from food-insecure Americans, struggling with higher food costs, more expensive gas and rents going sky-high, The New York Times reports.
Food insecurity across the country hit shocking levels earlier this summer, as the share of American adults aged 18 to 64 facing food insecurity—the inability to pay for nutritious meals on a regular basis—in June and July reached 21.4%. This is on par with the early days of the pandemic, in April 2020, when 21.6% of American adults were unable to pay for nutritious means on a consistent basis, an Urban Institute survey showed.
Even as recently as July 2022, the survey additionally found over one in five Americans have been challenged to consistently afford good meals for themselves and/or their families.
President Biden slammed Republicans in May for “forgetting” images of Americans lining up for food banks in the early days of COVID, saying, “Remember those long lines you’d see on television? People lining up in all kinds of vehicles just to get a box of food in their trunk? How quickly we forget. People were hurting. And what did the MAGA crowd want to do? Forget it.”
(“MAGA crowd” is a reference to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 election slogan, “Make America Great Again.”)
Little did Biden realize that that demand for food pantries has now reached similar levels as in March of 2020—with hunger and the ravages of inflation hurting millions, regardless of whether they are a Republican, Democrat, Independent or politically agnostic.
‘Hungriest Summer in History’
Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole warned that this summer was going to be particularly tough on Americans already strapped for cash, before inflation set in a year ago. “We’re worried that this is going to be the hungriest summer in history,” she says. “Inflation, sky-high consumer prices, gas prices, people’s rents are going up at a time when their wages aren’t following, necessarily — especially for lower-wage workers.”
A key reason for this summer being difficult for food-insecure families is inflation outpacing wages, combined with the end of government assistance programs that kept hungry families afloat during the pandemic, including stimulus checks and monthly child tax credit payments.
Elaine Waxman, an expert on food insecurity at the Urban Institute, tells NYT, “There was a charitable response at the beginning [of the pandemic]. There was a very robust government response as well,” but donations to food pantries are down just when they need the support the most.
Between the months of February and May, 73% of food banks connected to Feeding America reported a decline in food donations, and 94% reported a simultaneous increase in costs. Tabitha’s Way Director Wendy Osborne notes, “There was a lot of attention nationally during COVID, rightly so, but, sadly, things haven’t changed and are trending worse right now, especially with all the inflation.”
As it has for 12 straight years, Feeding America published a study in July pinpointing which areas across the country have the most families going hungry. Nearly half of Presidio County, Texas, 46.4%, are experiencing food insecurity, and rural areas and localities in The South are also especially impacted, the report found.
Philadelphia is another city on the frontlines of the crisis. The operations manager of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), Rosaline Yang, also reports a significant uptick in people turning to food pantries, at a rate of 600 people weekly today, up from 200 people two years ago. “With COVID-19 and inflation, a lot of items that used to be pretty affordable are getting more expensive—staples in Asian cuisine like rice and tofu,” Yang tells The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Even Well-Off Families Struggle
With 16 out of every 100 households in the city dealing with food insecurity, the crisis is not confined to impoverished Philadelphians either.
Executive Director Pastor Tricia Neale of Feasts of Justice, a city food bank, adds that residents with higher incomes are also increasingly in need. “We’re seeing a lot more individuals disclosing a higher income but still aren’t able to make it. They’re not close to the poverty line, but we’ve got families who are still needing this resource because they’ve just found their other expenses are more than what their incomes can handle.”
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