The historic high inflation in the United States due to the Biden administration’s economic policies not only hits the poorest families and children in the country but also the food banks that help them which now fear that they will not have enough to continue to do so.
Rising prices endanger those who already struggle to access food—a population of 45 million people, 15 million of whom are children, according to the non-profit Feeding America. This organization runs 200 food banks.
Feeding America and other NGOs have been warning for weeks of the challenge that inflation, at 30-year highs, poses to food banks, which have had to give smaller portions or substitute classics such as turkey and peanut butter for cheaper options in deliveries they have made for Thanksgiving, which is celebrated this Thursday.
The DC Food Project, which helps schoolchildren in Washington, has not yet had to cut back on its donations, but it has struggled to find protein-rich foods that fit its budget, Lucie Leblois, one of the founders, told Efe.
“Certainly the price of protein has gone up. So we’re trying to be creative,” Leblois said as she prepared boxes of food in a school parking lot to take to different schools.
Canned chicken and tuna packets have become the top choices for the boxes that 750 children in Washington schools receive every two weeks. Each box is worth $15 and the goal is to feed a family of four for ten days.
Inflation challenges for food banks
Washington D.C.’s main food bank, the Capital Area Food Bank, went from distributing 30 million meals before the pandemic to 75 million.
Before the pandemic, one in five of Washington’s children had difficulty accessing food, the same as the national average; but now it’s one in three. Because of this high level of need, most public schools provide free breakfast and lunch to children, as well as dinner in some cases.
However, there is a danger that little ones may not be able to access food when they are home for the weekend or during holidays like this week’s Thanksgiving. To fill that gap, the DC Food Project has taken on the mission of preparing a few boxes of groceries, every two weeks, in a school parking lot and then getting them to kids all over the city.
Preparation takes a couple of hours. First, trucks with food donated by DC Central Kitchen which belongs to Spanish chef José Andrés arrive at the parking lot. Then the DC Food Project founders and a group of volunteers unload the trucks to distribute the food in boxes and bags.
The volunteers stuff the packaged food into their vehicles – until they can barely see out the back window- and the distribution begins.
Families are struggling to meet basic needs due to inflation
The food is not delivered directly to those who need it, but to the educational staff in an attempt to preserve the privacy of the children. For example, upon arriving at the Ida B Wells and Coolidge schools, the only thing the students see is a cart with orange boxes from the DC Food Project coming through the front door.
Jacobo Larios, of Guatemalan origin, works in these schools and his mission is to help the children with everything that is not food: from notebooks to detergent to diapers, coats and gloves.
“Aside from the pandemic, inflation is affecting families the most. They can’t cover the basic needs they have right now and it’s making it more difficult for them. That’s where my program comes in to try to counteract those kinds of needs,” Larios, who works with the NGO Centro Latinoamericano de la Juventud (Latin American Youth Center), told EFE news agency.
Larios goes himself to buy the goods he then distributes to students and has noticed how formula and other baby food has gone up in price, the price of which has risen 7.9% in a year, according to government data.
When asked if he has had to stop buying some products, Larios laughs, rubs his hands, and says no. For now, the donations have served to withstand the rise in prices.
However, his students are already feeling the blow of inflation and he worries that the situation will worsen, as it did during the pandemic.
Before that health crisis, Larios was helping about 10 to 15 families at the Ida B Wells and Coolidge centers, a number that went to between 70 and 80; but this Thanksgiving week it has already gone up to 90.
“The truth is that everything is expensive,” he says resignedly.