(Forsyth County, GA) As prices surge, many families are looking to external sources for assistance. This is how the post-pandemic economy is affecting families in need, as well as the food banks who serve them.
Cristy Ferencie, CEO of local food bank The Place of Forsyth, saw the number of families they served skyrocket from around 75 a week up to 450 a week at the pandemic’s peak. She says that number now sits around 200 to 250.
“I think COVID not only brought out the need for those people that were dependent on paychecks that all of a sudden stopped but also made people more aware of the existence of food pantries,” said Ferencie.
The cost of living in the United States has rapidly increased across a myriad of everyday necessities and food has been no exception. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, combined increases in food, shelter, gas, and more has led to an 8.6 percent increase in the overall cost of living between May 2021 and May 2022.
The price of food in this timeframe increased by 10.1 percent. These are the largest increases in these categories that the U.S. has seen since 1981. As prices inflate, they most heavily impact the country’s poorest citizens, many of whom are struggling to afford the bare essentials.
Feeding America, a nationwide non-profit food bank organization, estimates 12.8 percent of adults and 16 percent of children in the U.S. had inconsistent access to food, known as food insecurity, in 2021. It estimated 4.7 percent of adults and 4 percent of children had very low food security giving them even less consistent meals.
Unable to put food on the table, many families turn to food banks for much needed assistance. Feeding America estimates 53 million people, about one of every six Americans, received food assistance from the charitable sector in 2021, a 33 percent increase compared to numbers in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephen Daniels, one of the founders of Forsyth County food bank Meals by Grace, has seen a recent uptick of those in need. He attributes this to the families who were benefiting from government assistance throughout the pandemic are struggling once again as this funding is ended.
“Need for food is increasing and the number of people we’re serving is increasing,” said Daniels. “This particular time has been more difficult for them than the COVID pandemic.”
But while the inflation on food is certainly a financial strain, it’s this combined with the rising cost of other necessities that has, for many families, sacrificed the food on their plates for the roof over their heads.
“We've seen such an incredible dramatic rise in rental costs in our community,'' said Ferencie. “If we can help them save money by providing them food instead of having to purchase it at the grocery store, more people are taking advantage of that.”
These rises affect the food banks as well. Both Daniels and Ferencie have seen their number of donations decrease as of late, and supply chain issues have limited some of the variety in foods they can provide. However, they both assure that even if or when more families must turn to food assistance, their organizations will consistently be able to help as many people as possible.
“We can sustain it. That's what we're here for and what we're made to do,” said Ferencie.
Seeing these struggles in their own lives is what has motivated Daniels and Ferencie to make a difference. After the recession in 2008, Daniels and his wife were working seven part-time jobs to keep their heads above water before having the stability to start Meals by Grace.
Ferencie began her tenure at The Place in 2016 as a volunteer where she says she saw the needs of her community and the impact the organization could make firsthand.
By getting to see and understand the situations of these people, Daniels and Ferencie believe everyone deserves respect and no one should be left behind.
“I believe strongly in what we do and the needs of meeting the needs of this community and creating an environment of respect and dignity among those who need assistance,” said Ferencie.
You can help those in your community through food banks by donating your food, money, and/or time through volunteering. Ferencie says you can see what items your local food banks are missing and try to target your donations around what people are needing the most.
But no matter the state of the economy, there will always be people who need assistance. Daniels believes seeing the difference an individual can make is inspirational for everyone.
“We believe that dynamic within our community is so powerful. Build a strong community and we all benefit,” said Daniels.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Ben Lacina at email@example.com