Worcester County Food Bank saw a 26% increase in ridership in 2019. CEO says inflation is to blame

More people are turning to food pantries for help, and not because they’re out of work.

Those joining the El Buen Samaritano Food Program for the first time in 2022 will find jobs in the restaurant industry, factories at TJ Maxx and Amazon, and as assistant teachers at local schools, according to executive director Mari Gonzalez. .

Gonzalez said the food program averaged 20 to 35 people a week using the food pantry for the first time, most of them working-class people, she said.

“After paying for rent, gas and animal feed, when it comes to buying meat and produce, eggs and milk, there is not enough money to buy basic necessities and all costs are very high. It’s going to be expensive,” said Gonzales.

El Buen Samaritano isn’t the only place to see an uptick in first-time users, according to data from the Worcester County Food Bank, which collects and distributes food to 119 partner agencies in the county from January to June 2022. His 36% increase in new users compared to that period in 2021.

The total number of food pantry patrons has also increased.

In 2022, partner institutions, including El Buen Samaritano, served an average of 38,100 people each month. This is a 26% increase from the 2019 monthly average of 30,320.

WCFB CEO Jean McMurray says the demographics of people using food banks are “all-encompassing.”

“I got a letter from a woman saying she took another job just to pay for food,” McMurray said. “It is the people who are already in a vulnerable state, and inflation has made their situation even more precarious.”

In addition to inflation, McMurray noted the end of resources made available during the pandemic, such as child tax credit payments. Child tax credit payments ended in December 2021 for him.

The types of people currently using food pantries are those living on fixed incomes that won’t rise as the cost of basic needs rises, college students seeking education, and budgets that are “really squeezed.” and they will have to face tough choices,” McMurray said.

Gonzalez says El Buen Samaritano is getting people with two or three jobs.

Along with rising costs for basic necessities such as food, gas and diapers, many landlords are raising rents with little or no notice, leaving tenants who can’t afford a price increase, Gonzalez said. is said to be evicted.

Families who had to move because of the rent increase had to pay a down payment for the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit to secure a new place to live. , is coming to El Buen Samaritano. According to Gonzalez, he’s thin enough to afford food.

McMurray spoke of a similar difficult decision when people who own a home don’t want to lose it, so they pay off their mortgage and choose to live without food.

Inflation and the current labor market are also affecting El Buen Samaritano, Gonzalez said. Three delivery trucks have stopped coming to the food program due to a truck driver shortage, limiting the amount of food that can be picked up and distributed.

Gonzalez received 6,000 pounds of groceries in his car and a small cargo van, but said he could receive more with a truck. She said she’s looking for donations so she can buy a larger cargo van or food truck.

Food pantries are currently running out of food to serve people each week, Gonzalez said, but this is nothing new, but the rate at which food runs out is increasing in 2022.

“I used to put extra food on the table, but now I don’t. The food runs out,” she said.

Gonzalez said El Buen Samaritano has experienced some of the problems customers have, Gonzalez said, renting because the church wants space for a school. He said he was running out of space.

Gonzalez said it’s very difficult to find new places because everything is so expensive.

“I don’t know where the future is going… we need a new home for El Buen Samaritano,” said Gonzalez.

McMurray said that while the Worcester County Food Bank’s patronage is growing and food prices are rising with inflation, it can still meet demand from partner institutions.

“Fortunately, thanks to tremendous support from both the state and federal governments, our food supply is very, very stable,” McMurray said.

The state has increased the amount of food it sends to the Worcester County Food Bank during the pandemic and is maintaining that high level through 2022, McMurray said.

From March to June 2022, McMurray said the total number of people coming to partner institutions for food increased to levels higher than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, it served 33,130 people, compared to 42,510 in March 2022.

“We haven’t run out of food yet. We feel we are in good enough shape to support our food pantries and the people they serve,” McMurray said.

El Buen Samaritano will be hosting a food drive throughout September as part of Hunger Action Month. For those interested in donating, please deliver food to El Buen Samaritano at his 39 Piedmont St. in Worcester or contact Mari Gonzalez at 508-304-1501.

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