Jun 14, 2023 - Health

Oregon Food Bank sees increased demand

Illustration of a box that contains some food and dotted outlines of food that is missing.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Local food banks are struggling to meet increased demand due to soaring inflation, ongoing economic struggles and post-pandemic reductions in federal food assistance programs.

Why it matters: More than 720,000 Oregonians who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) saw a decrease in monthly benefits since COVID-era federal emergency allotments ended in March, and many are turning to their local pantry to fill the gap.

Catch up quick: Emergency allotments added to SNAP in March 2020 put extra food money in the pockets of people getting aid. Additionally, hundreds of millions of dollars in extra federal assistance was added to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) during the pandemic.

  • Those dollars are now gone. Morgan Dewey, a spokesperson for Oregon Food Bank, tells Axios while many families are still struggling from the economic impacts of the pandemic, rising food costs are making it harder for food banks to meet the growing need.

What they're saying: "The minute these emergency allotments ended, families had to choose if their dollars were going to rent or choose if their dollars were going to food," Dewey said.

  • Many of Oregon Food Bank's partners have seen anywhere from a 25% to 50% increase in demand since pandemic assistance ended, she added.

Context: Oregon Food Bank is the state's largest food assistance network. With four warehouses, the nonprofit provides resources to 21 regional food banks, which in turn service 1,400 partners — from pantries and meal sites to free food markets and delivery programs across Oregon and southwest Washington.

The numbers: In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, a truckload of peanut butter (a common pantry staple) cost Oregon Food Bank $34,000. Today, it costs $65,000, according to Dewey.

  • In April, 87,499 Multnomah County households that qualify for aid received an average of $293 in food benefits per month, a decrease of about 31% from February, which was the last month that included the federal emergency allotments, per Oregon Department of Human Services data.

Flashback: In March, the Oregon Legislature approved $7.5 million in aid for Oregon Food Bank to prepare for the end of the federal programs, but CEO Susannah Morgan told the Oregon Capital Chronicle that money would only last through the end of June.

  • While the bulk of the food bank's aid comes from federal and state programs, it also relies heavily on grassroots volunteer work, local business partnerships and corporate donations.

The bottom line: "Simply giving people food does not end hunger," Dewey said, adding that Oregon Food Bank has a large advocacy arm within its organization dedicated to supporting bills and ballot measures that propose "key solutions to ending the root causes of hunger."

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