Food banks, meal programs struggle to meet rising demand as federal aid runs short

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Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan has burned through 2 million pounds of reserved shelf-stable food so far in fiscal year 2022. Demand increased 40 percent in March and has remained at that level since, President and CEO Gerry Brisson said.

At the same time, the number of summer meal program sites in the region and state has dropped more than 65 percent this summer amid rising costs and fixed reimbursement rates from the federal government, according to the state. That’s putting even more pressure on food banks and rescues.

“There are more people coming for help than we have food for,” Brisson said.

Fundraising has been steady but the number of people seeking help is rising along with food prices, he said. “The truth is, we’d have to spend $500,000 a month to make up the entire slack, but we’re just not ready to do that,” he said. “You can’t eat today’s lunch and not have dinner tomorrow.”

Making up the difference

USDA food to Gleaners hit an all-time high of more than 2.4 million pounds per month from mid-2020 to mid-2021. It’s now dropped to roughly 300,000 pounds of USDA food per month, on par with 2018, though community need hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels and is on the rise again, Brisson said.

Gleaners is dipping into its reserves to help make up for shortages, but that’s not sustainable, Brisson said. Fundraising has been steady and according to plan, but more people are coming and prices of food are going up so the dollars aren’t going as far.

“The question is, how long is this problem going to last? You can’t spend all of your reserves at once.”

“Food banks will handle this shortage in different ways,” Phillip Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan.

“Gleaners will raise the funds necessary to meet the need of the community. But other food banks do not have the same capacity to do (that) and will reduce the amount of food and distributions because of food and fund shortages.”