Food Banks in Greater Boston Face the Double Challenge of High Demand and High Costs
In downtown Waltham, a line of people walked the busy school street Thursday afternoon. This is not the rush of the holidays. Rather, it’s the type of demand that the nonprofit Healthy Waltham regularly sees during the pantry it manages twice a month outside the city’s municipal building.
The pandemic has drawn more people to pantries – and high prices in grocery stores have kept them coming back. Greater Boston area nonprofits say demand is higher than at this time last year as more people rely on food donations to offset inflationary pressure. And for those who sell and transport food to people in need, rising prices and rising demand have been a double whammy on budgets.
Wang Yihao, an 83-year-old Waltham resident, arrived four hours earlier to lead the distribution of Healthy Waltham. He said he and his wife were feeling the pressure of higher prices. âWe have to come here to get charity,â he said. “The increase in the price of meat hurts us the most, and that of vegetables also has an impact.”
A few blocks down, Delmi Marroquim, 35, worried that the pantry might run out of many items by the time she got there. She said her husband, a construction worker, had recently found part-time work after a long pandemic shutdown, but feeding her young children had become more difficult due to inflation.
âFood prices are higher now,â said Marroquim, âI can’t buy as much as I used to because they have gone up so much. ”
These price increases also affect Boston area nonprofits. Sasha Purpura, executive director of the nonprofit Food For Free, said they had made more compromises than usual to cut costs. For example, this year they âsplurgedâ on cooking oil for many of their donation boxes. Normally a year-round staple, she said the cost of oil rose 10% in October alone. Rather than reducing, the association devoted a larger part of its budget to its purchase.
“It’s Thanksgiving, and we expect people to be doing a lot of cooking. It’s something a lot of families are struggling to afford. So we just made the decision to spend the dollars and buy the oil. Said Purpura.
The Greater Boston Food Bank, which distributes food to more than 600 partners including Food for Free, has received status reports of growing demand. Cheryl Schondek, senior vice president of food acquisition and supply chain, expects the nonprofit to distribute 10% more meals during the holiday season than the last year.
With prices rising year round, Schondek said the food bank started planning Thanksgiving in April. At the time, turkey prices had increased by 10%; now they are standing 24% in retail stores. And, she says, the price of sweet potatoes has gone up 28%. Global shortages are also impacting many of the basic items they need.
âNot only were there shortages of truck drivers, but there were also shortages of supplies, like aluminum cans, cardboard boxes, wooden pallets. All of this has a negative effect on what we’re trying to achieve, âSchondek said.
As she watched Healthy Waltham employees stack 700 frozen turkeys for distribution, operations manager Maria Dimaggio said supply chain issues make it difficult to know what will be available.
âA specific example is milk and eggs,â Dimaggio said, âSometimes we can get them, sometimes we can’t. In addition, the meat, the chicken are inconsistent. A few pantries, we couldn’t get any chicken.
And after several years of increased demands on donors during the pandemic, nonprofits are hoping the fatigue hasn’t set in.
âPeople are extremely generous during this time and we hope they also understand that this need has not diminished,â Purpura said. “In fact, in many cases it got worse because of inflation.”
WATCH: Turkey with an Inflation Side: On a supply line in Waltham, Massachusetts.