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Local food banks look to the federal government for help as inflation drives up costs

Two people are loading paper bags with food from a food bank
Ismael Paramo

Covid-19 stretched food banks thin across the state, as Floridians lost their jobs and businesses. The food banks somehow adjusted. Now unemployment is low, but inflation and supply-chain issues are driving a new wave of need.

Dave Reynolds has managed Farm Share’s warehouse in Gadsden County near Tallahassee since 2010. He says “it’s done nothing but grow.”

Farm Sharerecovers crops from farmers and distributes nutritious food to Floridians in need. And now, due to inflation, the cost of the food
coming in has doubled, almost tripled for some products.

Reynolds says a truckload that used to cost $800 to get from Texas to Florida now costs

“Any product I bring in here, I’m almost paying double for than I would’ve pre-pandemic," he said. "So it’s been a big strain on how we do
our business, how we get our products, how we help the folks. I mean,we can only do what we can do with the price that we get.”

Feeding Florida is a network of 12 food banks that are also struggling with inflation. Robin Safley is their executive director.

“You’ve got two things going on with inflation. You’ve got the pressure it’s putting on the family, right, which means they need help,"
she said. "But then you’ve got pressure that’s going on the food banks, because our transportation costs, our trucks on the road and our food costs have gone up as well. So inflation hits us in two ways. We have more people we need to take care of -- and it costs us more to take care of them.”

Volunteerism has been down since the pandemic. Many volunteers are retirees, and since older people are more at risk for COVID, they tend to volunteer less now. And with gas so much more expensive, transportation is harder for people on fixed incomes.

Donors do their best to help food banks, but they’re under more stress as well.

“I think there’s always a concern of donor fatigue," Safley said. "How long can it sustain? It’s a real issue that we need to pay attention to and make sure people realize the pressure is great --still.”

Farm Share CEO Stephen Shelley says with demand for food increasing and the supply decreasing, the answer is for the U.S. Government to step in -- the way it did during COVID.

“Well, the immediate need is to hopefully have the federal government re-implement some of this programming. The food supply was coming
through the Emergency Food Assistance Program and some of the subsidiary programs that were created specifically related to the pandemic."

Last month Congress unanimously passed legislation called the Keep Kids Fed Act, extending free meals for all children through the summer.

The New York Times described the vote as “a rare instance of Congress extending a pandemic assistance program.”

Shelley says food banks will continue doing their best. “And so everybody just hang in there. We’re in this together, just like we were during the pandemic," he said. "We’re in it together now. I know Farm Share will do everything we can to help everybody through to the other side.”

You can read more about Feeding Florida here and ore about Farm Share here.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.