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Rising prices of food and gas adding pressure to Northeast Ohio food banks

Demand at area food banks could increase as costs for items like food and gas continue to climb.

CLEVELAND — The rising prices of gas and food are putting added pressure on local food banks, many of which are already experiencing increased demand from the pandemic.

At the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, demand has not slowed down. Their weekly Thursday drive-thru food distribution at the Muni Lot in downtown Cleveland has been consistently serving about 2,000 households each week. Jessica Morgan, Chief Programs Officer at the food bank, said they have not seen the need decrease.

“Last year we served over 343,000 people,” Morgan told 3News. “We are still serving more people than pre-pandemic numbers.”

Morgan said the food bank gets food through a few avenues, including through federal and state commodities. She said that lately, those federal commodities are down.

“We’re not getting as much from the federal government, from the USDA, and that’s something we’re really concerned about,” Morgan added. “So what we’re having to do is turn around and buy more food, but that dollar isn’t going as far as it typically would pre-pandemic.”

One extreme example – Morgan said that pre-pandemic, the cost of a case of green beans was about $9.00. Now, that cost is about $19.00.

The cost of food isn’t the only thing that’s increasing. Morgan said freight has also increased, meaning to ship product to them, especially with gas prices rising, they’re anticipating costs to go up as well.

The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank is also feeling the pressure from these increased prices.

“Supply chain issues have created a decrease in the amount of surplus food that’s available to our food banks, and so far, government programs haven’t increased at all to help us fill that gap,” said Dan Flowers, CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

According to Flowers, the food bank is a source of emergency food for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and food pantries across Northeast Ohio, serving about 250,000 food insecure people per year.

During the pandemic, Flowers said they experienced an “explosion” in demand.

“We’ve been buying more food than ever because of all the demand that’s been created, but the supply chain issues that are existing in the grocer industry are spilling over and resulting in fewer food surpluses available to food banks, while it’s making the food that we can afford to buy on that rare occasion more expensive and it takes longer to get it here,” he said.

Additionally, Flowers expressed serious concerns over the price of gas, and the impact those rising prices will have on people.  

“People that were already struggling between paying their heating bill and buying their kids shoes and prescription drugs and getting food are now being strapped with these significant fuel costs that no doubt will have a very detrimental cascading effect on their lives,” he said.

As people are faced with impossible decisions, or are forced to spend more on gas, Flowers said he anticipates a further increase in demand at food banks.

“There’s going to be a huge surge in people coming to food pantries with gas prices at $4.00 a gallon in Ohio, I mean that’s a lot,” he said.

It’s a concern shared by Morgan.

“For somebody who is struggling, making tough choices everyday whether to put gas in their car so that they can make it to work, or buying food for themselves and their children, that’s a reality for a number of people that we serve and something we’re very very concerned about," she said.

Flowers said one thing that would help would be for government leaders to authorize more money for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help food banks and pantries respond to the demand. For those able, donations and volunteers are always needed.

Both Morgan and Flowers directed those able to help to the websites for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank to get more information on resources available and ways to help.

“If you’re in a position to help, goodness sakes, we sure need it,” Flowers said.

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