How hungry families, food pantries plan to tackle a looming holiday season

food, supermarket, inflation, produce
More than half of shoppers in a FMI survey said they’ve noticed price increases for most products, notably fresh meats, fresh produce, refrigerated dairy foods and milk.
Photo Adrian Childress

Stephen Grimaldi, executive director at the New York Common Pantry, hopes to one day “be driven out of business.” But amid a global pandemic and an ensuing food affordability crisis spurned by record-high inflation, the pantry is instead busier than ever, hoping to meet the challenges of feeding a hungry city with one of the nation’s most food insecure regions — the South Bronx.

The South Bronx has been well-documented for its food insecurity issues — one in four residents don’t have access to reliable and affordable sources of food — and visits to Bronx food pantries are up 18% this year, according to Grimaldi. In efforts to accommodate the volume and needs of hungry families, the New York Common Food Pantry has produced and delivered 6.2 million meals in 2020 and 9.3 million meals in 2021, and is on pace to reach 10.5 million meals by the end of this fiscal year.

The looming holiday season will provide another challenge for the city’s food banks — who bore the brunt of food-providing services during the marathon COVID-19 pandemic — and will look to accommodate groups of migrants transitioning to life in NYC’s busy and expensive holiday season.

“So obviously this crisis, whether it’s inflation, the pandemic, or the migrant crisis, are big ones for food organizations like the New York Common Pantry (to handle) and we are already building on three years of pandemic response,” Grimaldi said. “It’s been a lot of work to drive down these numbers and the Bronx is hit hardest by food insecurity, and (the) impact of inflation on Bronx families is going to make this a very challenging and busy holiday season.”

On Wednesday, the Food Pantry began its multi-week Thanksgiving distribution drive — containing a turkey and Thanksgiving dinner sides — which included an event at the pantry’s 1290 Hoe Ave. location in the Crotona Park East section on Saturday, Nov. 19.

NYC food pantries quickly becoming a hot spot for food shoppers amid 40-year high food prices

The price of food in America has risen more than it has at any time since 1979 — a 13.1% increase over the past year — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.

Inflation has already had an effect on consumer mindsets heading into the holiday stretch as 62% of shoppers reported their grocery costs have increased year-over-year, according to FMI’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2022 focusing on holiday shopping.

More than half of shoppers in the FMI survey said they’ve noticed price increases for most products — notably fresh meats, fresh produce, refrigerated dairy foods and milk. Shoppers say they manage expenses by eating out less (57% of respondents), purchasing new clothes less often (55%), and cutting back on gifts for family (47%), driving (45%) and holiday celebrations (45%).

The South Bronx is one of the nation’s largest food deserts, where 1 in 4 residents are unable to access or afford adequate food. Photo courtesy East Side Settlement

“I dread these winter months because my wallet becomes a black hole,” said Eddie Vargas, a Soundview resident who works two jobs and has three kids. “I want to buy them all the gifts they want … but man, we need to figure out what we’re putting on our Thanksgiving and Christmas plates and everything is just expensive.”

In the Bronx, there are 77 food pantries and 18 soup kitchens, according to city data. Food insecurity, a measure of the availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it, has been a prevalent issue in the South Bronx where more than 40% of its resident live in poverty.

As of Nov. 18, New York Common Pantry has delivered 65,000 meals in the Bronx alone. From January to June of this year, there was a 14% increase in visits to NYC food pantries and soup kitchens.

Monthly visits to New York City food pantries and soup kitchens are up 68% compared to 2019, according to FeedNYC data. An analysis of NYC’s food pantry visits shows that the need for food banks is across all spectrums of income level — 91% of food pantry visitors have permanent housing and 70% are employed.

But 60% of pantry-goers are worried about running out of food, especially those households with children, and 34% report they cannot afford to purchase food. Around 63% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck — including nearly half of six-figure earners as rising prices continue to outpace wage gains — according to a recent LendingClub report.

While every income group will likely have to deal with the effects of inflation, a Deloitte survey suggests that lower-income shoppers plan to spend more this year, possibly returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at r[email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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