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Higher food costs pose a huge challenge for food banks this Thanksgiving
By Mary Villareal // Nov 19, 2021

Volunteers with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank have been giving out meals for struggling families, and the numbers are higher this year with 1,000 families to serve compared to 300 last year.


While food banks are doing what they can to serve more families, higher food costs pose a huge challenge. Last year, Thanksgiving prices were the cheapest in a decade, but Dr. Trey Malone, a food economist from Michigan State University, described this year as "almost a perfect storm of multiple issues" in the food system.

Transportation costs, labor shortages and inflation mean that Thanksgiving feasts could hit new highs. Last year, for instance, a frozen whole turkey cost an average of $1.12 per pound, but at a Cleveland-area Giant Eagle, a frozen Butterball turkey now costs $1.69 per pound, which means families could be paying as much as $8.55 more for a 15-pounder.

Green giant green beans, which cost less than a dollar last year, are now $1.18 per can – a full 25 percent price increase from last year.

Still, the food bank is focusing on giving as the need is greater than ever before. "I'd like to remind everyone that for every dollar donated to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, we can help provide four nutritious meals," spokesperson Karen Ponza said.

American food banks struggling to keep up with costs

In California, food banks have to spend an extra $60,000 every month to feed their clients. Regi Young, the executive director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, talked about how his organization is trying to keep up with the costs.

Young said that they had to make a lot of tough choices, and one of the things they had to compromise is their core food items.

The organization has to be mindful about what types of products they are bringing in and how much they're having, and ensure that they can stretch out their money as much as possible to make sure families in the community have the food they need.

Fruits and vegetables, canned meat and proteins can be substituted with other items, but some of the things that are getting difficult to get are canned tuna and canned chicken, which they have to secure to make sure there is enough protein to be given out to families.

Supply chain issues are also a problem as the lead times are getting longer. Food stores can usually get supplies in about two to three weeks, but now they have to double the time frame when ordering products, and there's no guarantee that they are going to get the food items that they order.

With the pandemic being far from over, families are also experiencing struggles on a daily basis, and one of the things they are struggling with most is having food on the table for the holidays. Young said there is a dramatic increase in food insecurity and unemployment rates are twice what they were before the pandemic. (Related: Supply chain disruptions stall global economic recovery.)

Young said the way he thinks about recovery is from the standpoint of a hurricane.

"So when a hurricane is coming, you can see it, you experience it, then it goes away. The storm has not gone away in Alameda County and throughout our country, and so we should not treat it as if it has," he said. "We have to be very mindful about how we are progressing to ensure that all families within our communities have what they need."

Read more about rising food prices and food shortages at FoodSupply.news.

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