Increasing costs, demand create new challenges for local food pantries

As inflation hits a 40-year high, an increasing number of families in the Capital Region are turning to food pantries for help putting dinner on the table.

Food pantries are struggling to keep up with demand, which is inching toward levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic, while paying more for the food they supply.

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The Catholic Charities location in Rensselaer is seeing 100 more people in a month than this time in summer 2021.

The organization’s Executive Director of Tri-County Services, Jenn Hyde, says the pantry is helping two to three new families a day, with volunteers remarking at how many new faces they see.

“We are certainly seeing people who are doing their best to stretch their dollars, and they just can’t. You can only stretch so far when the numbers are so high for gas to get to work, for school supplies, for food on their table,” she said.

Hyde says inflation is squeezing food pantries the same way it’s hurting the people they’re serving.

“I think that’s what we all see every day. You go to the market, and you get what you can, depending on what’s available on the shelf, and you’re paying more for it. Nonprofits like Catholic Charities are feeling the same thing,” Hyde said.

The cost of food for the pantry was up 37% this July, compared to last—and they get less bang for their buck.

“We’re receiving 12% less pounds of food for that increased price of 37%,” Hyde explained.  

She says they’re seeing some of the same families now that they haven’t seen since the pandemic first hit and many lost their jobs.

“A lot of folks who are working and just can’t spread their paycheck far enough, so they turn to us, particularly at the end of the month,” she said.

One organization filling pantry shelves is the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

Chief Operating Officer Nick Pisani says demand from the agencies it serves is up in the last six months.

“We’re seeing a 15% approximate increase in need from our pantries,” Pisani said.  

At its Latham warehouse, the food bank faces new challenges. Truck drivers are in short supply, and the organization is training some of their own employees to fill the need.

The gas bill on the trucks is up dramatically.

“Last year alone, we drove 471,000 miles with our vehicles. So if we did that in today’s times, same amount of miles, that would cost us nearly half a million dollars more just in the fuel expenses,” he said.  

For more information about the food bank, click here.