Inflation sends more Ohioans to food banks. Can pantries keep up?

LIMA — Cars lined up around the Kibby Street parking lot of the West Ohio Food Bank on Thursday, waiting for the final food distribution to begin.

Nearly 500 families signed up to participate Thursday as more families turn to food pantries like WOFB to supplement their budgets, a larger share of which is now spent on basics like gasoline, rent and food.

Food prices alone have risen 8.6% over the past year, according to the Labor Department’s latest Consumer Price Index report released on Friday.

But food banks are also struggling to keep up with inflation.

“We may have to re-evaluate”

WOFB has seen a 13% increase in the number of families visiting its pantries and distributions since last July. So many families are now seeking help that the food bank, which serves an 11-county region, is requiring them to register before attending distributions at its Kibby Street location.

“These families may never have needed food aid in the past, but now more than 8,700 new families have visited one of our partner agencies or gone through a distribution to receive food. food over the past 11 months,” said Tommie Harner, CEO of WOFB. .

There are grandparents raising their grandchildren and parents whose adult children have returned, Harner said.

But food banks are seeing fewer donations even as their spending increases.

Products that once cost 42 cents a pound now cost $1.04 a pound, Harner said.

Other necessary elements like proteins and shelf-stable products are not available at all. In the past five months, Harner said 250 truckloads of USDA products needed by its partner agencies have been canceled.

The food bank in turn had to move distributions and change its offerings – less fruit, less meat – to accommodate everyone seeking help.

“If things don’t change,” Harner said, “we may need to re-evaluate all of the distributions we provide to make sure our pantries are getting the food they need to serve the customers who come through their doors each day. the 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 a lack of funding. .

It was a bad time for tenants: Fox estimates tenants here are seeing rent hikes of $200 to $300 a month, sometimes more. Many of her clients spend 60% or more of their income on rent, she said.

“So if we can pay people’s rent, they can often afford car insurance and have 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 assistance and summer crisis programs, among others.

“Almost every job application we get these days, the client’s explanation is, I’m having trouble paying for food, utilities, rent, and gas,” Fox said.

Volunteers wanted

Harner said WOFB needs monetary and food donations, especially large-scale donations from manufacturers with excess or mislabeled products.

Volunteers are also needed to pack boxes and carry out food distributions.

“Not everyone has the ability to donate financial aid or they may not have the ability to donate food,” Harner said, “but if they have the ability to donate their time , it’s just as valuable to us.”

Volunteers load vehicles with cans, jugs of milk and other food items as part of a distribution at the Kibby Street location of the West Ohio Food Bank on Thursday.

Volunteers load vehicles with cans, jugs of milk and other food items as part of a distribution at the Kibby Street location of the West Ohio Food Bank on Thursday.

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