Inflation is hitting almost everyone hard, but it’s delivering a 1-2 punch to food banks, including the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank.
Karen Joyner, the group’s CEO, said visits are up this year and donations are down, making for a tough year for those in need. While she would love to have a crystal ball to see what the future holds, she’s not optimistic at this time.
“I, frankly, don’t think it’s going to turn around for the next year,” she said. “I don’t want to speak further than that.”
She added those at the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank are going on the assumption needs will continue to increase and donations will continue to decrease.
“So, we’re going to have to just purchase a lot more food, and the cost of that food is up about 40 percent over last year, at a minimum,” she said.
The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank covers nine areas: Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, Gloucester County, James City County, Mathews County, Surry County, and York County. However, those nine localities have more than 140 partner agencies, many of them churches.
Joyner said there are 62,000 individuals in her group’s service area who are chronically food insecure, but there also are a number of individuals who receive assistant only occasionally.
“For the 12 months that ended May 31, there were approximately 203,000 visits to Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, our mobile food pantries, and our partner agencies,” she said, which is an increase of about ten percent from the prior year.
The numbers had temporarily decreased during the winter, but are expected to continue to increase in the summer because school is out. In the state of Virginia, Joyner said about only 16 percent of children who receive a free lunch at school participate in a similar program in the summer.
“Their families are coming to our mobile food panties or to see our partner agencies in the summer because grocery needs go up significantly during the summer,” she said.
She estimates the foodbank will be serving about 500 meals a day to children at its 17 summer food service program locations this year.
“These families will need more help this summer than ever,” she said.
One reason the numbers aren’t higher is because of coronavirus pandemic relief help. Since the pandemic has been declared a public health emergency, those eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have received more financial assistance.
“That has really mitigated some of the increase in people needing the services of the foodbank and our partner agencies,” she said. “Not everybody that we serve receive SNAP benefits, but those who are receiving SNAP benefits are getting additional dollars from the government throughout this covid emergency.”
However, that is decided on a month-to-month basis, so when the extra SNAP benefits are no longer available, Joyner anticipates the numbers increasing.
The second part of the equation for the struggling food banks is donations are down.
“Right now, our inventory is very low,” Joyner said, estimating it to be down about 25 percent from a year ago.
Inflation is having direct and indirect effect on inventory.
An example of the former is the cost of backpacks of food the agency distributes to children during the school year. Those used to cost $5 each, and now they are almost $8. An example of the latter is since individuals and groups spend more on their own needs, there’s little leftover for donations.
“When organizations and groups and individuals are buying groceries, they’re paying more for their family, and may not have the extra money to also buy some for the food bank,” she said.
In addition, transportation costs have gone up 40 percent, said Joyner. With the fiscal year starting July 1, the food bank is expecting to purchase more food next year.
Hampton Roads isn’t alone in this situation. Joyner said most of the food banks across the state are feeling the pinch, too, especially in rural areas. “It’s kind of the perfect storm, donations are down, all the costs are up,” Joyner said. “It’s going to be a tough year, next fiscal year.”