Why 2022 was a rough year for Gulf South food pantries

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Inflation and the end of the pandemic relief program have created long lines for food depots in the southern Gulf of Mexico. But the same problem is causing problems with the pantry itself.

Pantries and their suppliers will not receive the same level of federal support as they did during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving them burdened with ever-increasing inflationary food costs.And while the economy continues to show signs of strength, inflation it’s late and unemployment was low — need for food aid stay high As economists warn Possible recession in 2023.

See what the past year has been like for our suppliers, pantries and across the food aid chain for those in need.

From unprecedented to new normal

Rashah McChesney/Gulf Newsroom


Rufus Coleman of Nelton, Mississippi, stands in line to receive her monthly food box at St. Luke’s Food Pantry in Tupelo, Mississippi, December 8, 2022.

The need for food assistance in 2020 and 2021 was unprecedented, according to the WHO. Michael Ledger,president feed the gulf coast — Supplies food to pantries and other partners in several lowland counties in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in the Panhandle of Florida.

This year, Ledger no longer uses unprecedented labels. That may sound like a good thing, but it’s simply because long lines have become the new normal.

“Looking back at 2008 and the Great Recession, it took more than a decade for those at the bottom of the financial ladder to get back on track,” said Ledger. “It takes a long time for people to right the ship.”

Demand remains high, but support for suppliers has not. Ledger says pandemic-era federal assistance programs coronavirus food assistance program, provided the Gulf Coast with millions of pounds of extra food. That program is now closed and donations are declining. Feeding the Gulf Coast has spent nearly $3 million this year to close the gap between need and supply. Before the pandemic, the organization was spending nearly half a million dollars each year.

“We stepped in to try and close the gap,” Ledger said. “But it’s only a short-term possibility.”

This has led the organization to switch to offering more produce as it is cheaper. It also has the added bonus of being healthier.

Like ordering Taylor Swift tickets

Volunteers load food carts at the St. Luke's Food Pantry on December 8, 2022 in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Rashah McChesney/Gulf Newsroom


Volunteers load food carts at the St. Luke’s Food Pantry on December 8, 2022 in Tupelo, Mississippi.

in New Orleans, Broadmoor Improvement Societyof food pantries source food from different suppliers, but more produce is also being ordered. Fresh fruit and vegetables are an improvement over last year, when even canned fruit was a rarity.

However, while the contents of the shipment have changed, supply still falls short of demand provoke stiff competition.

Nia PulliamPantry Coordinator and BIA’s Chief Social Worker. Buy Taylor Swift TicketsA minute before midnight every Tuesday, she waits on her computer for the Web page for Second Harvest, a food distribution company in southern Louisiana. When a new day begins, she refreshes the page and dashes to submit her order. If you don’t complete it in 30 seconds, half of her cart will be gone.

“It feels like Hunger Games,” Pulliam said. “I’m fighting for my place. I’m making sure there’s food in this community.”

The hardest thing to find is meat — a problem throughout the South, Pulliam says.

lines for traffic

Volunteers direct traffic to the drive-thru lane at the St. Luke's Food Pantry on December 8, 2022 in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Rashah McChesney/Gulf Newsroom


Volunteers direct traffic to the drive-thru lane at the St. Luke’s Food Pantry on December 8, 2022 in Tupelo, Mississippi.

One pandemic trend that has stalled is the drive-thru food pantry. They were brought in for social distancing and stayed for speed.

and St. Luke’s Food Pantry in Tupelo, Mississippia constant loop of grocery carts haul food from inside the pantry to a line of waiting cars that stretches onto the highway.

Instead of being bogged down with food they don’t like or don’t know how to cook, pantry management is considering switching to a walk-in model where customers can choose their own food. Butternut squash, for example, was a problem for many Pantry visitors in December.

“No, I don’t cook that butternut squash,” said Yvona Meadows, who has been at The Pantry for eight years. “For me, butternut squash is just a decoration.”

But picking a pantry yourself with a walk-in takes more volunteers, time, and more space. And with the need for food assistance still so great in Tupelo, people are solving quick problems.

The pantry opens at 8am on Thursdays, but James Kimbell arrived just after 3am one December morning.

“I come here early to pick things up because so many people come here,” said Kimbell, another Pantry regular.

October set a record number of 2,700 households assisted in the pantry. November was lower, probably because they closed for Thanksgiving. That month saw a 47% increase in the number of households compared to the same period in 2021.

Many Food Pantry visitors say inflation has been more difficult this year than last year. This is Shannen Soden’s first time going to the pantry. She appreciates her support, but this one thing she hasn’t changed in a year is her stigma. In the past, I have seen the look others give when they mention that they are dependent on their food pantry.

“It’s on their faces,” Soden said. “The way you look at that person changes completely. And now I’m here. So they’ll see me the same way. I’ve been working for years and sometimes something happens.” I think people need to understand that people who come to places like this need help.”

This story was created by Gulf Newsrooma collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM Alabama and WWNO When WRKFMore Louisiana and NPR.

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