The most frightening thing about not having food is you can’t live without it.
These are the realities of wartime life: Going to bed hungry, not enough money to buy groceries, and having to choose between eating or paying rent. Or the Great Depression.
But the new world norm brings with it another abnormality. A global pandemic, millions dead and now this: Spiraling inflation and a host of other travails has made food one of the most expensive necessities in these upside-down times.
Food is the only thing that can sustain people. Children cannot thrive if they don’t have a healthy diet.
Vicky Watkins (Virginia), 72, found herself in a situation she had never experienced in her long life. She didn’t have enough food for groceries.
According to her, her landlord raised her rent by $230 per a month in the summer. She lives on a fixed income from Social Security, and that unexpected increase ate her food budget.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,”Inside Edition Digital was informed by her. The ex-accounting professional has led a modest lifestyle her whole life. She no longer travels and doesn’t spend any entertainment aside from Netflix. “I try to stay within a budget, I always did that,”She said.
However, she didn’t have much choice when it comes to grocery shopping. So she swallowed her pride, put on her best face, and joined a long line for the food pantry at the Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach.
She stood in the sun for about two and a half hours, she said, surrounded by folks who, like her, needed a hand up in times they never expected to experience.
She waited patiently “I was thinking ‘Boy, I never thought I would find myself here.'”She said a brief prayer. “Lord, humble me.”
She met with about 75 people and struck up conversation. “A lady went through breast cancer, she was recovering from her last treatment, bless her heart, and she was getting food for herself and her two elderly friends,”Watkins retold.
She also talked with some “construction workers who weren’t getting work like they used to. Everyone was just saying how food prices were just going out the window. Every item is at least 75 cents or $1.50 more, and there’s nothing in the stores,”She said.
Watkins finally bought about $100 worth can green beans, brown rice, cabbage and cucumbers as well as a bag with zucchini, brown rice, squash, zucchini, and other goodies. Watkins had some milk at home so she didn’t take any. “just in case there was a family or a child who needed it.”
The pantry provides free food and no fees until January. After that, she will have to pay off the car. She is searching for a lower-cost apartment through an agency that offers low rents for people with limited incomes.
She said she earns less that $35,000 per annum from Social Security. She accepts her current circumstances and sympathizes with families trying to feed their families during these difficult times. “I always try to remember that someone has it worse than me,”She said. “I believe in God and I believe in prayer. And that’s where I stay.”
Spiraling Inflation, Spiraling Prices
The numbers paint a troubling picture of the prices Americans pay for almost every economic class, except the wealthy. Recent inflation levels have been at an all-time high of between 9% and 8.8%. This is the highest rate in nearly 40 years. Food costs are one of the hardest hit.
Grocery prices jumped 13.5% last month, compared to August 2021, the U.S. Labor Department reported.
Some simple items have seen double-digit increases in price. According to Labor Department statistics, egg prices have risen almost 40% over the last year. Chicken is up nearly 17%, and dairy products are up more then 16%. Cereals, baked goods, and cereal have risen more than 16%.
Avian flu outbreaks have driven up costs of eggs and poultry, along with an increased demand for chicken, which is cheaper than beef, industry experts say. The Russian invasion and ongoing wars in Ukraine have halted wheat exports. Climate change and droughts have dramatically reduced crop yields for vegetables and fruits.
The prices for these two groups have increased by nearly 10% since August last year.
Food agencies across the country saw a dip in their record-setting distribution numbers after the pandemic waned in 2021. But this year, a perfect storm began raging, borne of rapidly rising food prices, supply chain breakdowns, surging rents, staggering energy costs and roaring inflation.
Those who give away food are fighting to keep up, and they are serving people who had had managed to make do, but now are on the edge.
Recent federal statistics show that one in 10 American households can’t afford enough food. More parents are reporting they have sacrificed meals so their children have food.
According to the most recent statistics, 274,000 households in America were starving, skipping meals, or not eating for days due to lack of money.
The Front Lines of Fighting Hunger
Kay O’Reilly directs the chapel pantry of Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church. Watkins was recently there.
“We are seeing people who have never been to a food pantry in their lives,”O’Reilly noted that the number of people in need who have come to her center since January has increased by two-fold.
Even during the worst of the COVID-19 epidemic, folks had federal assistance in the form of the 2021 Child Care Tax Credit, which gave gave qualifying families monthly payments of $300 per child under age 6 and $250 per child between the ages of 6 and 17.
The extra money was exhausted early in the year. This meant that the money was not available to those families who were most in need. “able to make ends meet and now they no longer can.”
Her pantry is open three times a week, with 350 families showing up each week. This translates to “about 1,200 people every week, ” O’Reilly said.
“That number is just astronomical. It means people are waiting two to three hours sometimes to get food. And they’re waiting in the sun. They’re waiting in the heat. They’re waiting in the cold. They’re waiting in the rain,”She said.
“The other day it rained all day on us, and we still had 128 families come to get food that day,” O’Reilly noted.
Her pantry runs at its full capacity. “We really can’t serve any more people with the facilities that we have, and the time that we have.
“It can’t get much worse.” she said.
Things are bad enough already.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.” O’Reilly said. “Since 2009, I have been the director of this food pantry. I started it during the Great Recession.”
She knows that people are going hungry. “People are grateful and tell us about it all the time. But I think people are very, very frustrated with how difficult it is for them to just live an average life, nothing lavish, nothing outlandish — just trying to get by and feed their families.”
In Georgia, Kyle Waide heads the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which has been inundated with fresh clients. Since 2020, the number of new folks coming for food has soared by 35%, Waide said.
During the height of the pandemic, the food bank’s distribution efforts increased by 60%.
“This is a new normal. It’s becoming more common for low- and moderate income families to feel extraordinary pressure.” Waide said. “One of the key stories during the pandemic was that many essential things were more expensive than they used to be. Housing costs went up. Healthcare costs have risen. The cost of childcare has risen.”
The confluence can be crippling.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever recovered fully from what we were before the pandemic began.” Waide said.
“It is important that we all remember that it is only a half-mile to the woods and half a quarter of a mile back.” he said. “The folks who have experienced hardship over the last few years, including in recent months due to inflation, they’ve got a long road of recovery ahead of them.
“And we intend to be with them,”Waide said.
For those in need, life is good
Chelsi Lewis, a single mother of three children aged 48 and living in Maryland, is Chelsi. She is a fulltime student and does odd jobs as a supplement to her income.
It is now necessary for her to ration staples such as milk which have seen their prices skyrocket. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the national average cost of a gallon of wholemilk was $4.38. That’s a 28% increase over August 2021.
“Even just last night, my 12-year-old was like, ‘Mom, we need some more milk,”Lewis recounted. “I was like, ‘OK, so when I go get it, Zeke, just please, can you just try not to drink it up so fast?”‘
Having to tell her children to cut back on something as basic as milk makes her feel like an inadequate mother, she said.
“It’s making me feel bad as a parent because I never, ever wanted to tell my children, ‘Can you slow down on drinking the milk?”She said,
Despite receiving $800 in SNAP benefits and living in subsidized housing she finds it difficult to live a normal life due to the rising costs of food, energy, and inflation.
The monthly food stipend she receives now expires after just two weeks. She has made a game of cooking meals in pots — soups, chili, chicken and rice, “things that can last us because these prices are so outrageous,”She said.
She has a hard time providing healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables. She can understand why families rely on fast food. It is cheaper to order drive-thru hamburgers rather than to purchase the ingredients to make them yourself.
“I see that every day, all day,”Lewis stated. She knows that parents often buy inexpensive, filling food such as pasta to feed their children’s stomachs. “But then they don’t have anything healthy to throw into it, but they have to feed their families. I totally understand,”She said.
Sometimes it can feel like a Solomon’s choice and keeping those difficult decisions from your children is a burden.
“As a mother, I don’t want my children to see how hard it is,”Lewis said. “We don’t want our kids involved because they’re kids. Let them be kids.
“This is a mommy situation.” she continued. “It’s a serious issue. It’s a serious issue.” she said.
But she does let her children know that prices have increased, and that they have to think of new ways to stretch their groceries.
“It’s crazy. It is also one of the most wealthy countries in the world. You can also see the average worker, those who just want to care for their families, being faced with this.” she said. “It shouldn’t be this way in the country where we live. It is absurd, it is.”
But Lewis is an optimist. She prays every day for things to change. As does O’Reilly, watching the long lines of people patiently waiting for their turn to enter her food bank and wondering when the economic climate will get better and what will change things.
“This is a global issue right now, and I don’t know the solution. I don’t know the answer.” O’Reilly said. “I think more people should consider SNAP. It used to be known as food stamps.
“Of course, anything that the government can do to help people is great. But I don’t have an answer,”She said. “I just keep feeding people.”