By Rebecca Rice
The Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank seems separate from the food systems that govern grocery stores – after all, we get donations from individuals and grocery stores. We don’t buy food…right?
In fact, the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank purchases a lot of food! We spend about $21,000 every month on food – thanks to the support of our donors, partners, and grant funders – prioritizing the purchase of fresh produce to ensure all our shoppers have plenty of nutritious food items to choose from, as well as essentials we may not receive through individual donations. This means many food banks are facing the same issues as grocery stores across the country, which you may have also experienced with higher prices on your grocery bill.
We can largely still blame COVID-19 for these issues – labor shortages mean less food is being produced or picked, packed, and shipped off to food distributors. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs now cost an average of 5.9% more than last year and are up 14.7% from 2019 (Seattle Times).
This is affecting the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank’s ability to order food in the quantities and varieties we need. For example, we frequently make orders through Charlie’s Produce (who also supplies restaurants) and recently, they haven’t had the amount of produce available to meet our needs with each order. In addition, the cost of bulk items, such as flour and sugar, have increased significantly. The amount and variety of food we receive through Food Lifeline via The Emergency Food Assistance Program (a federally funded food program for food banks) has dropped noticeably in the past month.
On top of those challenges, we saw a 58% jump in the number of visits to our food bank in September this year.
This is all fueled by changing COVID-19 regulations as the virus surges and recedes in different places at different times. In addition, labor shortages are widespread across lower-paid industries, such as farming, food packing, and transportation. Even the containers often used to transport food and other goods cost more for suppliers (Seattle Times).
We saw similar effects with the Great Recession in 2008, however, the recovery from COVID-19 will be slower and far more challenging for people who have lower incomes, fixed incomes, or who are already paying a high percentage of their income on housing, food, or other essentials.
The Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank will ride out these cost increases and supply shortages with the rest of the country, while ensuring our programs adapt to meet the changing needs of our clients to help create a stable safety net, even during a pandemic.