Kendall Nunamaker and her family of five from Kennewick, Wash., face an impossible math problem this month: How to pay for gas, food and mortgages now that inflation is rising?
Like many working families, the Nunamakers are dealing with 8.3% inflation in the consumer price index for April announced Wednesday, which slowed slightly from March’s figure, which represented the biggest year-on-year increase. another since 1981, according to the Department of Labor.
The average price of gasoline at the national level reached its historical maximum of US$4.40 per gallon (US$1.16 per liter) on Wednesday. And global food prices are rising due to shortages caused by Russia’s war with Ukraine and other supply chain problems.
Food banks across the United States say those economic conditions are intensifying demand for their assistance services at a time when their labor and distribution costs are rising and donations are declining.
The problem has reached such levels that President Joe Biden last week called a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health for September, the first since 1969.
For many families like the Nunamakers, food insecurity has come as an unpleasant surprise.
“There is no reason why we as a couple and family should be struggling so much. We won well,” said Nunamaker.
She works three days a week at an interior decorating store where she earns $15.25 an hour. Her husband, Nick, has a full-time job as a shuttle driver for people with disabilities and earns $27 an hour.
Although they receive some money from a state child nutrition program, in which their two youngest children are eligible to enroll, they still spent $360 on food last week.
Due to inflated prices, those groceries were insufficient to feed everyone. And the family still lacked money to pay other household bills, so Nunamaker was forced to wonder how she’ll make her next paychecks to cover those bills and the mortgage this month.
On previous occasions, the family sold assets such as virtual reality glasses and firearms to cover those expenses. “At some point we are going to be left with nothing because we will have already sold everything,” he said.
So Nunamaker and her husband made their first visit to two local food banks last week.
The pandemic forced nearly 60 million Americans to seek food aid, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that runs food banks. At the end of 2021, as hiring picked up, demand for help from food banks returned to normal levels. But the respite was brief.
“Over the last few months, with this increase in inflationary pressures, we see 95% of our 200 member food banks say they have seen the need stabilize or increase,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO. from Feeding America.
In the area along the Columbia River where the Nunamakers live, the number of customers seeking food assistance at a church pantry jumped 40% between December and March, according to Eric Williams, director of community partnerships for Second Harvest, an organization who works to supply food to local pantries.
He said his organization must do more with less because its suppliers are subject to the same price gouging. The amount Second Harvest pays for donated vegetables has increased from about 13 cents per kilogram (6 cents per pound) to 24 or 26 cents per kilogram (11 or 12 cents per pound) at this time, Williams said.
Some of Feeding America’s food pantry partners have closed due to decreased donations and higher costs for receiving and delivering food. Others have less food on their shelves, even though they face higher demand.
“Our network emphasizes access and equity,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “So we are working harder to reach the people who have the worst rates of food insecurity. But how far can we go when gas prices are high? We have data showing that race and location are significant predictors of whether or not you will be food insecure and to what extent it will be.”
Due to inflation and reduced aid, a food bank serving three Ohio counties — also called Second Harvest — is facing a drop in the amount of food it is able to provide.
“Compared to last year at this point, we have received about 50% less in the last federal food donation and collected 20% less from store food drives,” said Executive Director Tyra Jackson. “The combination of all of that has really impacted our budget because right now we need to buy more food.”