Some anti-hunger groups say they are currently seeing demand on par with record highs seen in spring and summer 2020.
At the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which collects and distributes supplies to more than 700 nonprofit pantries, community kitchens and childcare centers across the region, demand for food aid has increased more than 30% since the beginning of the year, according to CEO Kyle Waide.
Before the pandemic, ACFB was moving about 6 million pounds of groceries a month. That average rose to around £10million during the peak of COVID-19 before falling to around £7million at the end of last year. The drop in demand, Waide said, was due in no small part to Congress’ expansion of the child tax credit, which helped parents of about 2 million Georgia children pay bills and buy groceries until it expired in late 2021.
This autumn, According to Waide, ACFB is again distributing £10million of food a month, serving around 560,000 people a month it is Network. Particularly hard hit are low-income, fixed-income seniors and families with children who have had to find space in their budgets to cover materials and other back-to-school costs.
“If you’re already very close to margin, if it’s about having any cushion in your budget, if food prices are going up at the rate they have, if gas prices are going up, if rental costs are going up, all that brings You kind of get to the other side of that line where you’re in deficit now,” Waide said.
Intown Collaborative Ministries, which operates a pantry outside of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church on Ponce De Leon Avenue twice a week, recently saw record demand, feeding about 1,100 people a month since mid-October, according to Laura DeGroot, director of food programs. She said administrators saw a noticeable increase this summer after Atlanta Public Schools ended its electronic pandemic benefit transfer program for students who typically received free or discounted school meals.
The following month, organizers saw a 19% increase in the number of families with children who had access to their pantry, DeGroot said.
“We can see from our numbers alone that people are coming more and more,” she said. While customers used to use the pantry as a transitional resource, “it now seems like we’re becoming the primary source of sustenance for more people.”
Inflation, hovering around a four-decade high since last year, does not only burden families’ budgets. The Tafel themselves are now paying more for less food and have fewer supplies on their shelves.
“We’re buying more groceries than ever before and buying at a higher unit cost than ever before,” Waide said. “We currently spend over $2 million a month to buy groceries, which is simply not sustainable over the long term.”
Some of the US Department of Agriculture’s pandemic-era food-buying programs ended last year, and additional USDA money funded from Congress’ COVID relief package won’t get to the loading docks until January at the earliest, according to Feeding Georgia’s Craft.
A grant program championed by Gov. Brian Kemp and approved by the state legislature earlier this year is helping grocery stores buy surplus fruits, vegetables and meat at a discount directly from Georgia farmers. But these funds are expected to be depleted by December, and it’s unclear whether the General Assembly will replenish the money next year.
“We’re hoping it’ll be an ongoing thing,” Craft said.
How can you help:
Most food banks and pantries rely on donations — both monetary and food-related — and the work of volunteers:
The Atlanta Community Food Bank, www.acfb.org/
Intown Collaborative Ministries, https://intowncm.org/