7,000 seniors in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Chester counties had to wait for their monthly grocery boxes when a shipment of cereals arrived late at Share Food program facilities earlier this month.
It was the first time a program serving people over the age of 60 suffering from food insecurity had been delayed, according to George Mattisik, executive director of SHARE.
The holdup was also a stark reminder of the burgeoning need as supply chain issues continue to impact emergency food services.
Fred Wasiak, President and CEO of The Food Bank of South Jersey, said: “We are gearing up for a year of ambiguity.
Food pantries and emergency food assistance programs across the country and regions continue to struggle as record inflation has boosted demand and, in some cases, dragged down the overall number of donations this year.
“Many people are feeling the pinch of rising food prices and inflation,” said Chelsea Short, director of communications and marketing at Phila Bundance. It’s taking a toll on the family.”
At the same time, less government support for emergency food services as pandemic aid expired. Stimulus checks and additional unemployment funds are running out, affecting both those seeking help and those considering donations.
Locally, the short-term forecast is relatively positive. November and December are usually the richer months for food banks, and those with the means to provide have been generous so far this holiday season. city and suburbs.
But it’s unclear whether 2023 will bring more challenges to food pantries as recession fears persist.
Food pantries have suffered from increased demand, supply chain issues, and various other issues since the pandemic began.
These challenges have waned in the nearly three years since COVID-19 emerged, with inflation causing significant stress through 2022, pantry managers say.
The last few months have been particularly tough, with some organizations reporting surges in demand not seen since or since the early months of the pandemic. The pace of donations and other forms of support has not kept up, they say.
In Camden, Gloucester, Burlington and Salem counties, 205 pantries fed more than 120,000 households in a single month this fall, said Wasiak of South Jersey Food Bank. This is more than his 95,000 households served at the height of the pandemic, and far more than his pre-pandemic average of 40,000, he added.
Share, a Philadelphia-based organization that distributes food to hundreds of thousands of people through pantries and other services, has seen a 70% increase in the total number of people served this year, Mattisik said.
“Apart from March 11, 2020 to mid-July … this is the biggest challenge we have seen so far,” he said.
Ambler’s Mattie N. Dixon Community Cupboard said its customer base grew 45% from January to mid-December compared to the same period last year, but food donated was down 10%. Executive Director Cindy Wedholm said.
At the Lutheran Settlement House in Fishtown, we see the same number of people coming through the pantry door, but they need more food, said Meg Finley, Senior Services and Nutrition Director. She said that in 2022 she plans to distribute £400,000 of food, £100,000 more than in 2021.
According to Pantry Manager Anna Darby, the Upper Merrion Area Community Cupboard sees weekly numbers on par with early 2020. Last year she served 119 households and in 2020 she had 151, while in her week before Thanksgiving she served 141 households.
The feeding ministry at Willow Grove Seventh-day Adventist Church in Abington is just over the 200 families it served a year ago, said Elaine Williams, an assistant who supports the program. I’m here. refugees.
In recent days, she said, they have been helping about 20 Ukrainian refugee families from northeast Philadelphia and another large refugee group staying at a nearby church. In addition to food, they often need diapers, baby food and even sturdy shoes, she says.
“We really aren’t good enough [supply]’ said Williams, citing a decline in pandemic-related grants, funds and donations. “We try to stretch what we have.”
None of the Food Pantry organizers said they expected these problems to ease anytime soon. Said he was worried about what would happen in January when the
Brooke Harvey, nutrition services coordinator at The Open Link in Pensburg, said:
Some pantry managers said they wished they could receive more food from large distributors such as Philabundance and Share, but officials at these two organizations said rising food costs and It said it was suffering from ongoing supply chain issues.
At Martha’s Choice Marketplace in Norristown, food pantry manager Hannah Leighit tries not to think about what might happen if demand continues to grow at this pace, food prices don’t come down, and donations stall. .
She said she would be devastated if Martha’s Choice had to provide less food to food-insecure families.
But as she looks to 2023, Montgomery County pantries, which provide food and other essentials like diapers, soap and detergent, will serve about 350 households a week, double what they did this time last year. Leifheit said it could offer. .
“We are at our limit,” she said. “When you start thinking about the rising costs and having to refuse your family, it kind of paralyzes you.”