The price of feeding all

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 11/30/21

REGION — As food prices rise, families feel the bite.

The cost of food rose 0.9 percent in October, the same as in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meat, poultry, fish …

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The price of feeding all

Posted

REGION — As food prices rise, families feel the bite.

The cost of food rose 0.9 percent in October, the same as in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs drove the increase, going up another 1.7 percent, after a 2.2 percent increase in September.

But the solution, “Let them eat at the food pantry,” is complicated by the same issue.

“Grocery store prices have gone up dramatically in the past 60 days,” Molly Nicol, CEO of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, wrote in an email. “This has led to an increase in the number of neighbors in need seeking assistance from the charitable food system.”

That need increased 40 percent during the height of the pandemic, she said. “Since July alone we have seen a 3.5 percent increase in need over the already high levels.” There’s been a 12-percent increase in food distribution since July.

With supply-chain issues and the rise in prices, food banks, like families, are under strain.

The Regional Food Bank has had trouble getting turkeys and meat, butter, cheese and graham crackers, which are used for the backpack program.

“Some of the supply chain challenge is due to the shortage of workers in the meat processing and food manufacturing environments,” Nicol said. “Some of the supply chain challenge is due to transportation obstacles.”

They’ve had to find replacements in other, more expensive sources.

And there’s the increase in the price of fuel. “Fuel costs have risen 40 percent year-over-year. This increases our cost to transport food to our partners and cost to collect food from our donors.”

The price increases, including food costs, mean that the food bank is spending “at least 15 percent more” on food than in the past, Nicol said.

In Sullivan County, at the Federation for the Homeless, program administrator Kathy Kreiter is dealing with slightly different problems.

Food donations have come in, and they have a food grant from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

But “our food grants do not cover operating expenses,” Kreiter said. And one wonders what will happen when the holiday food drives are over.

“Spread the word,” said Molly Nicol. “So more people understand the need.”

What can be done?

Monetary donations help with non-food expenses—consider the electricity that keeps perishables at the food bank safe to eat, or the fuel that their trucks use. Often donating money is the best and easiest way to help those in need, Nicol said. “We can provide four meals for every $1 donated.”

Volunteers are needed; the food bank alone uses 16,000 volunteers each year.

In Pennsylvania, there’s the CEO/Weinberg Food Bank at https://www.ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org/.

Wayne County, PA runs food pantries; visit https://www.waynecountypa.gov/169/Pantry for more information or learn how to donate.

In Pike County, Pike County Hands of Hope has a master list of food pantries in the county at https://pikecountyhoh.org/pike-county-food-pantry-list/.

Financial donations are important, but so is packaged food. Grab some items for donation bins when you do your grocery shopping. People in need don’t always have a way to cook food, so try to pick things that can be eaten from the package if need be. Find some soft items that don’t need much chewing. Buy cans with pull tabs in case someone doesn’t own a can opener. Grab some smaller cans for those without working refrigerators.

How do I feed the hungry?

Food banks and pantries welcome donations, but there are rules to follow. Here are suggestions from a regional food bank and the national organization Feeding America.

Donation requirements at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York

  • Food must have a label per the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which prohibits the distribution of any food item without a label (except for produce).
  • Food items with cosmetic damage are acceptable. However the interior packaging MUST be sealed.
  • Food items past the sell-by date by up to four months are acceptable to donate and safe to consume.
  • Cans of food with dents on the top or bottom seal are not food-safe, due to the risk of air leaking into the can. Do not donate these items. Dents in the side of a can are OK.
  • It is OK if packages of adult or baby diapers or paper products have been opened, as long as the contents are clean and in good condition.
  • Oral care items like toothbrushes or dental floss MUST be sealed.
  • Donated baby formula must not have damage to the packaging and cannot be past the expiration date.

What NOT to donate, from Feeding America

  • Items needing refrigeration: Food like produce, dairy, and meat can spoil easily and your local food bank may not have the refrigerator or freezer space needed to keep these items fresh. Food banks and pantries work with stores and farmers so the hungry do receive fresh food.
  •  Expired food: When considering what to donate, think about what you’d be comfortable serving your family. Don’t donate food that’s past the “use-by” or “sell-by” date
  • Leftovers: While it may be tempting to want to share the bountiful food from big meals like Thanksgiving, it’s best to keep leftovers for the family. To ensure the people they serve are safe, food banks can’t accept leftovers or anything made in personal kitchens because they aren’t individually sealed and the food bank can’t verify the ingredients or preparation process.
  • Food with packaging concerns: This includes food with damaged packaging such as dented or bloated cans, packaging that is already open, or even items in glass containers, which can shatter and cause food safety concerns for any other food they’re stored near. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t consider buying it new, don’t donate it.
  • Baked goods: Similar to leftovers, since food banks can’t confirm how your baked goods were made or their ingredients, they can’t be donated. But food banks often have relationships with local restaurants or bakeries which will donate extra food that is properly labeled and handled to nearby pantries, soup kitchens or shelters.
food pantry, supply chain, food bank, donations, grants

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