Inflation and Lower SNAP Benefits Drive Increased Demand for Food Pantry Assistance

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Marie Ochaba, the primary coordinator of the pantry at the Church of God on West Main Street, declared, “We have never been busier than we are right now.” “Not just my pantry, but every pantry,” she added. “At least twenty to twenty-five new members join each month.”

Food bank leaders and food pantry administrators attribute a portion of the increased demand to the elimination of COVID-19 emergency SNAP assistance. Subsequent to its expiration in March, the supplementary allocation granted households that were already beneficiaries of the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously referred to as food stamps) an additional monthly payment.

Additionally, the season and inflation contribute to this loss; authorities report that demand typically increases during the winter holidays.

“Rent remains due despite residing in a senior high rise,” Ochaba explained. “There is still a necessity to procure groceries, and access to gas, water, and electricity remains uninterrupted.” The cost of living is, in my opinion, at an all-time high. At this point in time, I do not recall ever witnessing it this high. It is possible to exit a store with only one item and twenty dollars in your wallet.

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Higher numbers

Since COVID began in 2020, demand has fluctuated, but it has remained robust for food banks and local church-run food pantries.

Jennifer Miller, the chief executive officer of the Westmoreland Food Bank, stated that while the influx decreased marginally in the early phases of the epidemic as more people obtained SNAP benefits, it has since “returned tenfold.”

The spokesperson stated, “Before COVID, we saw between 5,500 and 6,000 families per month; now, we see 8,000 families per month.” “We are considerably deficient in the provision of food products.” We are experiencing a similar decline in donated funds. Currently, all forms of donations are greatly appreciated.

As per Miller, the clientele of food banks has been adversely affected by inflation, mirroring the adverse financial consequences of the organizations. Even though they continue to acquire products at a discount, food banks’ funds are not traveling as far as they once did.

In 2022, 441 households in dire need of food requested emergency assistance from the Westmoreland Food Bank. So far in 2023, 520 households have submitted requests for the identical emergency assistance.

In fiscal year 2020, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank supplied its eleven-county service area with 40 million meals at the onset of the pandemic. Christa Johnson, a spokesperson for the food bank, stated that during the most recent fiscal year, the organization served 42 million meals.

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Increased need

Nancy Wirick, the organization’s administrator, reports that the volunteer load at the food pantry situated at Forks Zion Lutheran Church in Leechburg has increased in recent years.

The woman stated, “Since our inception seven years ago, we have expanded from serving a handful of families to up to fifty families each month.” “There is no doubt that this need has increased.”

According to Executive Director Karen Snair of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches in Harrison, the weekly influx of new patrons to the food bank at the organization has been observed.

“In spite of the epidemic, the numbers are unquestionably greater than they were in prior years.” “It appears that more people are showing up,” she stated. The statement reads, “People were accustomed to receiving that additional pandemic money through their SNAP benefits; however, that is no longer the case.” “Food costs are exorbitant.”

The weekly influx of requests for assistance at the Kiski Area Association of Churches food bank is increasing, per pastor Todd Ruggles.

He added, “Since the end of (increased) SNAP benefits, we’ve been receiving more calls mid-month requesting assistance and individuals enrolling.” “People are now contacting us for assistance approximately once per week, as opposed to once per month.”

Greater-scale obstacles

Despite a decline in demand since the height of the pandemic, it remains higher than it was prior to the emergence of COVID-19, according to Ken Regal, executive director of the Allegheny County food insecurity organization Just Harvest. SNAP enrollment has not decreased in tandem with unemployment.

“In general, the fact that those numbers remain at these record highs at this time indicates that the need has increased rather than decreased,” he explained. “Before the pandemic, Allegheny County had 147,000 SNAP recipients in December 2019; by September, that number had decreased to 166,000.”

Regal asserted that food bank assistance in isolation is insufficient to combat the escalation of food insecurity.

“Only through charitable contributions can the magnitude of poverty and hunger be alleviated,” he proclaimed. Despite the benevolence of all individuals, both during and after the pandemic, this is an enormous problem that cannot be resolved by a single private charity. The disparity in benefits between the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic periods amounts to nearly $17 million per month in erstwhile individual benefits that are no longer provided.

He continued by stating that the elimination of the extra-aid programs that existed during the COVID-19 era is “tragic and morally reprehensible.”

“We decided to implement those tools in the midst of the pandemic in an effort to eradicate hunger and poverty, which are fundamental concerns for millions of people,” he continued. “What we learned from those was that the federal government provides society with the necessary tools to do so.” “Upon realizing that this solution was effective, we abandoned it.”

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