Aug 30, 2022 - News

Richmond-area food pantries overwhelmed

Illustration of an senior citizen holding a small bag of groceries hand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The number of people visiting local food pantries is surging as inflation puts pressure on financially-vulnerable Richmonders.

Driving the news: The increased costs of gas and food have been the major drivers of more people needing assistance, says David Waidelich, chief programs officer for Feed More, the umbrella organization that collects and distributes food across Central Virginia.

  • Feed More started to see about 10-15% more people coming into its roughly 200 food pantries in the first quarter of this year.

What’s happening: “There was a big spike when COVID hit, and we were just starting to see a decrease when inflation hit,” Waidelich tells Axios.

  • About 70% of the patrons are people on the brink who have to decide between buying groceries or paying the bills.
  • The majority of people are employed, but they just don’t make enough to cover all of their bills, Waidelich added.

Zoom in: In the first week of January, St. Thomas’ Food Pantry — which is part of Feed More’s network — served 225 households. By spring, the Ginter Park church was seeing more than 300 families a week, pantry director Kristin Cummings tells Axios.

  • Last Thursday, the pantry offered emergency food to 414 local households.
  • Pre-pandemic, it served around 75 families a week.

What they’re saying: “The lines [last week] looked just like the lines we had the summer and fall after COVID hit. It was bonkers,” Cummings said.

  • The rising cost of rent has been another stresser on St. Thomas’ customers’ budgets, she noted.

Threat level: Inflation cooled off in July, according to the last Consumer Price Index, but food prices were 10.9% higher that month compared to a year earlier — the highest rate of growth in 43 years, Axios’ Nathan Bomey reports.

Change in price of select food items
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

The big picture: Feeding America, the country’s largest network of food banks, reported recently that 65% of its member food banks, including Feed More, saw an increase in demand from May to June.

Meanwhile, donations are down.

  • St. Thomas, for instance, is getting about half the amount of food per week that it was getting at the height of the pandemic, Cummings tells Axios.

How you can help: Donations of time, resources or money are all welcome, pantry officials tell Axios.

  • Food such as canned soups and veggies, pasta, pasta sauce and other non-perishables can be dropped off at locations across town.
  • Monetary donations can be made online.
  • Volunteers are always needed, as it can take up to 100 people per pantry, per week.

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