Higher food prices could cause food banks to scale back services provided to people in need

Higher food prices are forcing people to make some tough decisions with their budgets.

The pandemic has slowed every part of the global supply chain—disrupting how products are manufactured, transported and distributed. It has caused a surge in shipping fees, a shortage of products and ultimately a price hike in foods including protein, dairy, produce and grains.

"The price increase in food is hitting everyone. So, I’m not sure how we are all going to navigate this, from our own households in our own personal pantries, let alone the food pantries serving those in need," said Sue Potter, CEO of Nourish Pierce County.

The impacts of the soaring prices are trickling down to local food banks, when the amount of people in need remains high. Nourish Pierce County operates 23 food banks in almost every part of the county. Potter said, over the past two months, all of their food banks have seen an increase in people they serve. She said part of that uptick in customers is due to COVID-19 government assistance funding and programs ending. She said she also thinks the soaring food prices is a factor.

"The prices are crazy high. A lot of it has to do with the shipping fees," said Potter. "To give you an example—if we’re purchasing a product that is canned or produced in Asia, in 2020, it may have cost somewhere between $2,500-$3,000 to get our container from Asia to Tacoma. A few months ago when I inquired about a load of food, the shipping cost had jumped up to $10,000. And just recently, I’m told by my vendor, he has seen numbers even as high as $20,000."

Potter said, before the supply shortage, she could buy mixed vegetable cans at the wholesale price of $12 per case. She said now it’s $19 per case.

"That’s very difficult for an organization that relies on 100 percent donations to stay in operation. So, we’re very concerned about the supply chain, about food costs," said Potter.

Nourish provides a minimum of three meals per day for three days for everyone in a household. Potter said her team worries if the food banks will still be able to offer that minimum.

"We don’t want anyone to have to skip a meal, but if the supply chain issue continues to go on like this and prices continue to increase and we can’t find funding to support these crazy dollar amounts that we’re having to pay now, we will have to cut back on what we provide our customers," said Potter. "We will be able to provide our neighbors in need with nutritious food that they need, but it will be on a much lower level."

Cutting back resources for those that really need Nourish’s help is the last thing Potter said she wants. To keep up with the high prices and growing need, the pantries plan to set aside some food and money for emergencies, and ramping up fundraising efforts.

"It’s the community coming together, all the entities coming together to make sure our neighbors have the food they need. We don’t want anyone to have to choose between rent and food, or medicine and food," said Potter. 

Nourish is working closely with hunger relief programs through the Washington State Department of Agriculture to make sure there is food in all 23 of the panties it operates. The team is also trying to work with more companies in the U.S. to secure food. 

"It’s a guessing game at this point. It’s a global pandemic, it’s a global supply chain issue. So, the more we can do to stay healthy and keep our neighbors healthy, hopefully that will have a trickle down effect and we’ll see everything improve in our world," said Potter.

Nourish Pierce County has more information on its website about the services it provides throughout the county for those looking for food assistance. Nourish also has opportunities available for volunteers, food drives and donations.

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