Food banks across the country and New Mexico are seeing a steep rise in the number of individuals and families in need of food. Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque saw an increase of half a million pounds of food ordered from distributors in March of this year compared to March 2019. That trend continued into April, and is on trend for May as well.
While large food banks rely heavily on donors to help offset the cost of food orders, they’ve seen a decrease in donations as well, as the demand continues to increase. This of course makes sense as even supermarket giants like Walmart and Costco are often out of food staples. When those grocery stores are out of food, they simply don’t have the food to donate to partners like Roadrunner either.
Also increasing are the costs of food from distributors. For many non-perishable items Roadrunner typically purchases, they have seen an increase of up to 70 percent on some items such as corn. Dry spaghetti costs have increased by 48 percent. The main contributor in the rise in food costs isn’t gas prices as one might think, it’s a food shortage nationally.
An even more dire trend is the closure of smaller regional food pantries in high risk communities which larger food banks like Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque help to support. “We’re seeing the closure of almost 20 percent of hunger relief sites in some communities,” said Communications Officer Sonya Warwick. “We’re trying to work with them to utilize drive through options and other ways they can remain open for those in need without putting their volunteers at risk.”
Volunteers are the base of making sure any food bank can sustain the pressure of an increase in people who are unemployed or cut short on hours and need food. Those same volunteers unfortunately are often those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Many of the volunteers are retired and have the time to give, but now can’t afford to risk their health by giving their time.
There is some good news to help struggling farmers and food banks. On April 24, the USDA was authorized to spend three billion dollars to help hunger relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Farm Bureau will begin working with state and regional farmers to get harvested food from farms and from meat and dairy industries to food banks rather than let it go to waste.
“We’re relieved to have help from the federal government to work with local farmers,” said Warwick. “Our biggest concern is the much longer lasting economic impact of COVID-19 and what that means for our ability to feed the ever-increasing population of food insecure.”
If you’d like to donate or volunteer time with Roadrunner Food Bank, visit rrfb.org. You can also find information on contact-less food drop off sites.