Families and Food Banks Struggle
By Dianne Anderson
Not everyone needs a food bank – yet.
Poverty advocate Gregory Scott sees a huge increase in local need.
He said that most of the population, in general, is feeling the pinch, even in Orange County where affluence abounds.
“For those who of us don’t have a need for a food bank, it’s hard for us. I went grocery shopping last week and experienced the same thing. I put gas in my car to fill up my gas $150,” said Scott, President & CEO of Community Action Partnership of Orange County.
With rent, food, gas and utilities soaring, many in the community are facing hard choices, but supply chain issues are not only impacting individual families. It’s also impacting over 300 nonprofits and organizations that his agency provides food to, and hundreds of thousands of local families they serve.
Increased prices are also impacting the shelves at the food bank. They do not have the same kind of surplus of food donations that they had in the past.
“I would say the source of donated food is not available. Now we’re having to purchase food ourselves on the market just like any other resident. That becomes very costly for us because we buy in bulk,” he said.
Over the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index reported an increased 8.5%, marking March as the largest 12-month advance since December 1981.
His food bank is purchasing tons of food at market prices, even though some of their commodity supplies comes from federal donations, along with local donations, but they can’t keep pace with the demand.
It’s so high the product goes out about as fast as it comes in.
“It’s a huge hit to people already struggling and families need everyday items. We talk about gas or eggs, but families have to make a hard choice of what they can afford for the family or what they [have] on their shelves,” he said.
Food purchases are topping 10% over a year ago, and utilities, which he provides through the agency, are averaging over $300 a month. His organization also helps with rental assistance.
“We see thousands of people coming in for utilities above the number that we were serving prior to [ the pandemic]. We also have a diaper bank, and have given out over two million diapers over the last year or so because of that need,” he said.
They serve their usual vulnerable population, along with many newly vulnerable. Orange County has vast wealth, but he said families are struggling with basic necessities in all 34 cities that he serves.
The food bank distributes about 23 million pounds of food in a typical year. But in 2020, they distributed 63 million, nearly triple the prior year. 2021 saw a short dip to 52 million, but still double the norm.
They see a similar trend into this year.
“The war is playing a major role in gas prices and utilities and all these other things,” he said. “Even though we’re coming out of COVID, many people are still unemployed on the verge of homelessness, or underemployed.”
Those people can’t afford $7 for a gallon of gas or upwards of $4 for a dozen eggs.
Still, the community has come out in big and little ways to give. He said money donations are good, and dropping off in-kind donations of food is always helpful.
“Food can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00. We also take cryptocurrency,” he said. “People are digging in to help.”
The 63 million pounds of food distribution that came in was, in part, thanks to community giving, which in turn went back to help others in need.
“That’s because people were giving and corporations were giving, but we still have needs,” he said.
Cathleen Otero, Senior Vice President of donor & community engagement with the OCCF, said smaller nonprofits are definitely in need.
Coming up, her agency’s donor supports 24 participating nonprofits and encouraging donors to give what they can. Their recent 24-hour online fundraising campaign will help keep efforts going for the most vulnerable in the community.
“They often don’t have the capacity or the extensive network to host a big fundraising campaign. And even larger nonprofits struggle with ensuring that galas and events are successful,” she said.
By joining together and collaborating in the fundraising on the same shared focus, she said nonprofits are showing that they’re part of a larger effort to work with a community of partners.
“Donors see other nonprofits tackling this issue and will often give to a new organization in addition to the one that invited them initially, and that becomes a new relationship that the nonprofit gets to steward over time,” she said.
Every donation to the upcoming fundraiser is appreciated, no matter how small. The goal is to raise $1.6 million to support shelter and resources.
“Each of the participating nonprofits is working with individuals and families that are either experiencing homelessness, housing insecurity, or at risk of homelessness. Some of these organizations have emergency funds that help support food, gas, utilities, and rent to help prevent people from falling into homelessness,” she said.
To support OC-CAP, see https://capoc.org/
To support OCCF, see https://help-them-home-giving-day.ocnonprofitcentral.org