Inflation, supply chains challenges continue to impact local food pantries

Supply chain shortages following the pandemic have put a larger price tag on everyday food items as inflation continues to plague the United States.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 2:27 PM EDT
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HATFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Supply chain shortages following the pandemic have put a larger price tag on everyday food items and as inflation continues to plague the United States and more families are relying on food banks.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is the main source of food for over 160 member food agencies, shelters, and meal programs in the state, but they’re struggling to make sure growing needs are met. With the end of emergency SNAP benefits, the Food Bank’s Christina Maxwell expect the recent spike in local food insecurity to continue through the next few months.

“Expecting more people to turn to food pantries to put food on the tables,” Maxwell explained.

She added that in the Bay State, residents who were receiving those benefits will get a little reprieve, but it’s won’t quite cut it.

“Legislature passed a 40 percent replacement for three months, so that will help people. It’s certainly not as good as getting the entire benefit, but at least it’s some help,” Maxwell added.

Maxwell explained that on a state level, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is still receiving the same amount of funding. However, due to inflation, that dollar amount equals less food items. On a federal level, the United States Department of Agriculture has significantly decreased the amount of food they provide due to supply chain shortages affecting the amount of food available.

“That’s having a very large impact on our ability to serve our agencies and our ability to serve the neighbors who come in to get food from them,” Maxwell noted.

Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Director of Food Operations Shirley Del Rio said the agency can’t afford to fill the gap on their own. She estimated that it would cost up to $1.5 million just to cover the reduction on the federal side and as the Food Bank continues to experience delays due to food chain shortages, their online ordering is only increasing.

“We turn our complete inventory eight times a year…We’re trending towards turning our complete inventory 21.7 times a year, so when we’re comparing returns, we’re up 161 percent over last fiscal year,” Del Rio said.

According to Del Rio, some of the steps they’re taking here in western Massachusetts include

  • Lowering product limits to give all of their members an opportunity to order items
  • Purchasing specific items members have requested, including food staples such as tuna and peanut butter
  • Waiving markup fees so agencies can fill the gap

The Food Bank is also asking for the public’s help by launching a fundraising campaign this week to rally community support.

“…Or asking our donors for a monetary contribution and we’re also suggesting that there are other ways. People can organize a food or refund drive if they wish for every dollar donated to the Food Bank and provide the equivalent of three healthy meals in our region,” said Deb Ondo, communications and engagement for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.