INDIANAPOLIS — Local food banks say they are serving more Hoosiers now then during the height of the pandemic.
“It’s been going up about 50 to 75 families a week since mid-January,” said Sarah Estell, senior director of communication at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, Inc.
Estell said the increasing demand is largely due to inflation but also the loss of certain pandemic relief.
“[Hoosiers] lost the child tax credit, inflation started to ramp up, and now they’ve lost, on average, $90 a month in SNAP benefits,” said Estell.
During the height of the pandemic, families utilizing SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, were able to receive the maximum benefit allowed for their household size. That program expired at the end of May after Indiana lawmakers decided not to renew it another year.
Estell said enhanced SNAP benefits helped some families make ends meet. She said now those benefits are expiring at time when Hoosiers need them most.
“We’re hearing from people now that didn’t need us during the pandemic,” said Estell. “Inflation is just the last straw for a lot of people.”
According to Feeding America, households that are considered low-income spend roughly one-third of their income on food. Nationally, it cost families 10% more to buy groceries this year — with the cost of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs increasing by 13.7% alone.
“Food prices have gone up for 17 consecutive months right now, and that affects families, but that also affects us here at Midwest,” said Marcie Luhigo, executive director for Midwest Food Bank Indiana.
Midwest Food Bank Indiana serves over 300 agencies across 62 counties. Luhigo said the food bank has seen the need for their services increase by 28% in Marion County alone.
Luhigo explained the food bank has had to buy up more food, at higher prices, to continue meeting the needs of Hoosiers. She said transportation costs have also increased.
“So each time one of our semis fills up it’s an extra $500 and we have a semi that fills up every day,” said Luhigo. “That’s how we go get food that’s being donated to us. Then we bring it here [to Midwest Food Bank] and then our volunteers help get it distributed throughout the state.”
At Gleaners Food Bank, transportation costs are also up. Estell estimates by roughly 20%, but said sometimes it is more.
“The cost of getting a truckload of produce from California to Indiana where we can distribute it and use it to serve our Hoosier neighbors, you know, it’s about twice what it was a year ago,” said Estell.
Those are added costs that will not, and cannot, be passed down to the consumer. So for now, officials said food banks are forced to foot the bill.
“Everything is lining up to really put a crunch on food banks and the charitable food system,” said Estell.
To offset costs, both Gleaners Food Bank and Midwest Food Bank are asking Hoosiers to volunteer or donate.
“That generosity is critically important to us right now, probably even more so than at the height of the pandemic,” said Estell. “Because at that point, there was a lot of government assistance coming in for food banks. The amount of food that food banks are receiving from the federal government now is actually lower than it was before the pandemic.”
To donate to Midwest Food Bank, click here.
To donate to Gleaners Food Bank, click here. Estell said the organization is also in the midst of hosting a special food drive to provide a million gallons of milk to families in need.
“Dairy is one of the most critical needs for food insecure families, especially those with children,” said Estell.
Those looking to donate can text MILK to 55433 to make a donation to that cause.