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August 9, 2022 7 mins

We are seeing an increase in food insecurity around the country and this time around it is not due to a wave of people losing jobs, rather high inflation has been hitting Americans hard, leading many to seek out help from food banks.  Lora Kelley, business reporter at the NY Times, joins us for how the food banks themselves are struggling to meet demand as they see decreasing donations and increased costs due to paying more for transportation and acquiring food.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
It's Tuesday, August nine. I'm Oscar for Mirrors from the
Daily Dive podcast in Los Angeles, and this is Reopening America.
We're seeing an increase in food insecurity around the country,
and this time around, it's not due to a wave
of people losing jobs. Rather, high inflation has been hitting
Americans heart, leading many to seek out help from food banks.

Laura Kelly, business reporter at The New York Times, joins
us for how the food banks themselves are struggling to
meet demand as they see decreasing donations and increased costs
due to pay more for transportation and acquiring food. Thanks
for joining us, Laura, thank you so much for having me. Well,
let's talk about what we're seeing out there as high
inflation costs really continue to hammer Americans across the country.

You know, we're seeing a lot of people just really
struggling to meet the increased demands of what things are costing,
and a lot of them are starting to turn to
food pantries, to food banks for that extra little help
to keep feeding themselves and their families. But unfortunately, what
we're seeing on the part of the food banks, they're
also having a hard time keeping up with a high
demand right now, their costs have gone up, they're seeing

donations start to go down, and it's a kind of
a tough time for everybody. So, Laura, you took a
look into this. What are we seeing out there? Yeah,
that's absolutely right. So in my reporting for The New
York Times with my colleague Nicholas Koulish, we found that
while we're in this moment that many Americans are unfortunately
experiencing food and security, the food pantries themselves are also

facing their own challenges. So as food pantries are seeing
pretty high demand from people, including some people coming in
for the very first time to food pantries, those food
pantries are facing the same high costs as everyone else.
So I spoke with, for example, food pantry in the Provo,

Utah area called Tabitha's Way, and the executive directors said
that she was feeding more families every week and at
the same time, her budget had gone up. She spent
more on food, she's spending more on gas to go
pick up donations, and she's spending more on her own payroll.
And what they're seeing as when they start talking to

everybody that it's really an issue of inflation. That's the
thing that's really hitting everybody. It's not like there was
a big wave of unemployment hut, a bunch of people
lost their jobs or anything. It's about the higher costs
of what's going on right now, which we've seen food
prices increased ten point from last year. Yeah, exactly. Many Americans,

even those who had been able to hang on throughout
the pandemic, are now struggling and are now food insecure.
So some recent data from the Census Bureau showed that
last month, twenty five million adults sometimes had not had
enough to eat over the previous seven days. And just
to put that number in context of it, that's the
highest that number has been since right before Christmas in

and that's the time when in the employment rate was
nearly twice what it is today. Wendy at Osborne, who's
the director of Tabitha's Way food pantry that I mentioned
a moment ago in the Provo Utah area, she told
me that something she's been seeing on the ground at
her food pantry is that a lot of the people
coming in and getting food from her food pantry are

not people who are unemployed. Rather, there are people whose
households have one or more jobs, but they're just having
a hard time affording food as prices of everything from
crow threes to baby formula to gas to keep going up.
One of the other things that they're seeing is that
this is kind of a change from the way it
was at the beginning of the pandemic. You know, obviously

we're going into lockdowns and you know, a lot of
businesses weren't open, so people were struggling at that time,
but there was a lot of donations, there was a
lot of stuff going on. And now so this is
the kind of the complete opposite of it. Now, now
that the pandemic has eased up a little bit and
people have gone to work, it's this inflation that's keeping
people really needing these services. So it's a shift from

how the pandemic, how we started during the pandemic. Yeah,
that's absolutely right. So at the start of the pandemic,
a lot of people and this was a great thing.
A lot of people were aware of food insecurity and
we're donating to food pantries and donating the food banks.
But now at this point, fewer people have been making donations. Um,
So just to give a few numbers as examples. From

February to May of this year, seventy three percent of
Feeding America's food banks that were surveys said that their
food donations were down. Going back to Tabitha's Way, the
food pantry in Utah that I mentioned a moment ago,
they found that in the first half of two food
drive donations sell nearly two thirds compared with the same
period last year. They also found that donations of food

from grocery stores and restaurants were less than a quarter
of what they had been the year before, and their
cash donations were also down, So their cash donations dropped
to less than seven hundred thousand dollars from nearly one
point one million dollars. So a lot of food pantries
and food banks across the country are seeing that in
this moment, they're seeing less donations than they were maybe

in March, mature, April. Yeah, I mean it's a really
tough time obviously, where the whole point of what we're
saying is that inflation is so hi right now, it's
making it much more difficult. So for those families, those
people out there that can help, you know, obviously do
it if you can, and you know, what a lot
of people are seeing out there too, is as they
need to use these services, they're going out there, they're

getting great food. You know, the people that are working
there are are doing really well, are helping a lot
as well, and they're saying, hey, you know, there's used
to be this kind of stigma about using the services,
food bank services and whatnot. And some of them, some
of them are even taking a social media to kind
of dispel some of that, encouraging others to use it.
And and and that's another wrinkle in it too, Right, more
people are encouraging others to use the services, some more

people are even actually going for it. Yeah, something that
was a lot of fun to discover in our reporting
in this story is that, as you say, some people
are going on social media and they're really trying to
spread the word to encourage other people who are in
need not to feel ashamed, not to be embarrassed to
ask for help, but rather to take advantage of resources

that are available in their communities. Um So, one great
example of this was I spoke with a young woman
named Ataja Boisa, who's a certified nursing assistant in the Hartford,
Connecticut area. And she started going to food pantries for
the first time, in one she hadn't expected. She told
me that she would be able to get good fresh
food there, but she's really found that she's able to

get foods like squash and shrimp and brown rice to
feed her family. She has two young kids. She even
told me that you can get luxury meals from the
food pantry and you can cook luxury meals, and she
now is making TikTok videos. She said that people in
Connecticut who lived near her, and people in New York
City and in her region have started messaging her on

TikTok to say that they're interested in going. And she
said that she would really encourage other young people, other
young moms, to take advantage of resources to go to
food pantries if they are in need. For our experiencing
food insecurity in this moment. Laura Kelly, business reporter at
The New York Times, thank you very much for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me. I'm Oscar Promiris
and this has been reopening America. Don't forget that. For
today's big news stories, you can check me out on
the Daily Dive podcast every Monday through Friday, so follow
us on I Heart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.
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