Northeast Louisiana food bank hit hard by inflation; community donations help meet need
Holidays are marked by the meals shared with loved ones, and for those with little to no access to food, Thanksgiving and subsequent days of celebration are made possible in part by local food banks and pantries.
Yet with rising inflation affecting the cost of food, gas and other essentials, people in need, and the organizations that help them, are experiencing the repercussions of escalating prices.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index rose 6.2% from October 2020 to 2021, the largest year-over-year jump since 1990. Prices for fruit and vegetables rose 3%, and cost of meat, poultry, fish and eggs increased 11.9% over that same time frame. Gasoline prices went up 49.6%. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings only increased $1.44 year over year.
"If you're living paycheck to paycheck, if you're living on a low fixed income and you go to the grocery store and the cost of all the food has gone up, you're going to only be able to get less than you have in the past," said Jean Toth, executive director for Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana. "It really affects people who are low-income to see the prices going up but their income is not."
The Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana, one of five food banks in the region, relies on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and donations to help the estimated 66,000 Northeast Louisiana residents who struggle with hunger.
"We have a lot of community support here, and we really appreciate that," Toth said. "That has enabled us to continue to meet the need through COVID and the hurricane and the ice storm and all the disasters."
With the rising cost of food, Toth said grant money doesn't stretch as far as it once did. When the bank does purchase food, there have still been some setbacks caused by economic obstacles. They've had to start ordering items 12 weeks ahead instead of four weeks ahead to account for supply-chain issues. Additionally, the cost of freight to ship donated food has tripled, Toth said.
Though there is an increased need for food resources during the holidays, Toth said community has risen to meet the need. Scouting for Food, an annual drive in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, raised about 20,000 pounds of donations for the food bank.
Pam Walker, owner of Care and Hope Ministry in Bastrop, a partner organization of the food bank, said the community has been generous this holiday season to meet the demand of serving more than 5,000 individuals. There have been donations from Walmart and Super 1 Foods.
On top of community donations, Walker said Faith Baptist Church stepped up to help the pantry by donating a building in the early days of the pandemic. The new facility allowed the pantry to create a drive-thru food drive, giving folks the opportunity to safely drop off and pick up food. Several local businesses set up a fundraiser to get the pantry a new freezer. Despite the increasing cost of gas, the sheriff's office has helped by driving to Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana in Monroe to pick up distributions and bring them back to Bastrop.
"We have a lot of community organizations working together hand in hand," Walker said. "Our sheriff's department does an excellent job of helping agencies like ours or ministries like ours here in our parish to help serve people in need."
Upcoming food distribution events from Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana:
- Ouachita Parish: Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 10 a.m., at First West Baptist Church, 311 Mill St., West Monroe
- Tensas Parish: Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 10 a.m., Old Waterproof High School, 287 Main St., Waterproof
- Madison Parish: Friday, Dec. 3 at 10 a.m., Tallulah Community Center, 800 N. Beech St., Tallulah
- Jackson Parish: Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m., Jackson Parish Sports Complex, 5254 Louisiana 4, Jonesboro
- Lincoln Parish: Thursday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m., Ruston Sports Complex, 2001 Champions Way, Ruston
- Ouachita Parish: Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 10 a.m., Monroe Civic Center, 401 Lea Joyner, Monroe
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