During the past year, each time I’ve walked through any of the four Food Bank of the Rockies distribution centers, I hear the same comment from staff: “Our shelves are never this empty, and it’s been challenging to keep them stocked especially with our most highly requested items.”
Increased food costs and supply-chain disruptions from the past few years certainly impact families, to which nearly all of us can attest after a sobering grocery run. It’s worrying to consider that at a time when our dollars don’t go nearly as far and families are turning to food banks and food pantries for help more than ever before, that food banks and food pantries are struggling to keep distribution centers stocked.
Feeding America, the national network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, recently reported that in 2022, approximately 49 million people in the U.S. – 1 in 6 – received charitable food assistance. Since March, when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotments ended, Food Bank of the Rockies has seen a 40%-60% increase in individuals seeking food assistance at our mobile pantries and has been distributing enough food for more than 181,500 meals daily. This spike is greater than we saw during COVID-19.
This increase in neighbors using our services includes people like Mara, a mother of three whose husband works full time, who spoke with Food Bank of the Rockies about her experience.
“Every month we’re struggling. We have little left after we pay for the bills and rent and everything. We barely have enough for gas and food for our family of five,” she said. “Everything keeps going up in price, and every penny we earn goes to necessities: bills, gas, rent, car maintenance, things for the kids. We struggle but thank goodness for resources like this.”
At the height of COVID-19, federally funded food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program comprised 50% of our total food supply. That program now supplies only 13% of our total food supply. We’re attempting to make up for the decrease through other means including purchasing more food, but trying to do that while also struggling to meet increased needs and absorb food inflation is nearly impossible without the help of Congress. Food Bank of the Rockies’ purchased food costs (excluding labor and all other expenses) are now more than $1.5 million every single month; that’s more than triple what we were spending to purchase food each month pre-COVID.
Food banks weren’t set up to purchase food at the astounding rate we currently are, but we are doing what we can to ensure our shelves are stocked to support people in getting the food they need.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program provides food at no cost to people in need through food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and emergency shelters. For years, the program has helped ensure that food banks can serve nutritious food procured from American farmers and ranchers to their communities. It is truly the cornerstone of the emergency food supply for food banks across the country; it has historically provided about 30% of the food distributed through Feeding America food banks and local hunger-relief programs until the last couple of years. It cannot be overemphasized how essential a strong Emergency Food Assistance Program is for food banks to fulfill their mission of providing food to communities quickly, safely, and consistently.
Federal nutrition programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are funded through the Farm Bill, which Congress reauthorizes every five years. The current Farm Bill expires this month. We urge Congress to strengthen Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and Emergency Food Assistance Program funding to support households experiencing food insecurity.
Food Bank of the Rockies and our partners stand ready to serve Coloradans and Wyomingites in need, but charitable donations alone can’t ensure that families get enough to eat. We are counting on Congress to join us in meeting the needs of our community members by increasing funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program and strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in this year’s Farm Bill. We are grateful for the continued partnerships we hold with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and our congressional delegation, and look forward to working with them to feed our neighbors every day.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to email@example.com. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)