Supply chain interruptions continue to ripple through the U.S. economy, but the staff and volunteers at Laramie Interfaith’s Food Pantry are finding ways to fill grocery bags and feed families.
“We’re doing very well, thanks to our community,” said Josh Wantanabe, Interfaith’s executive director. “Our community provides us with an amazing level of support. In that regard, we’ve done really, really well this year.
“Donors, whether people are donating food or donating money to us, they’re allowing us to overcome the other obstacles.”
Foods at the pantry are obtained from the USDA commodity program, the Food Bank of Wyoming, wholesale suppliers and many local donors, Wantanabe said.
But that doesn’t mean the pantry hasn’t felt an impact from both prices and availability. Obstacles include dwindling supplies from the Food Bank of Wyoming, he said. That source, a food distribution center, has had trouble offering enough food of enough varieties.
The last distribution of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was unusually low, especially considering the number of families in need, he said.
Interfaith, the largest food bank in Albany County, provides meat and non-perishable foods, along with some fresh fruits, vegetables and baked goods, to families and individuals.
Pantry clients can get fresh bread, perishables and commodity foods on a daily basis, and non-perishables once a week with the quantity determined by family size.
Wantanabe credits local organizations holding food drives, a collection on opening day of the University of Wyoming Cowboys football and schools, businesses and churches collecting cash or goods for the pantry. One group collected canned items by trick-or-treating for the Food Pantry.
Supply chain disruptions, lower inventory and labor shortages all have contributed to increased costs for charities on which tens of millions of people in the U.S. rely for nutrition. Donated food is more expensive to move because transportation costs are up, and bottlenecks at factories and ports make it difficult to get goods of all kinds, according to the Associated Press.
For example, Interfaith is offers food boxes with items needed to make a Thanksgiving dinner at home, along with a turkey or a voucher for a turkey from a local grocery store.
“For Thanksgiving meals, we are still offering a full thanksgiving meal. They come in and sign up, and we provide turkey, stuffing, green beans, cornbread and all that good stuff,” Wantanabe said.
He also noted that a shortage has nearly doubled the price of turkeys. Sweet potatoes are in short supply. And, inexplicably, canned pumpkin has been hard to find.
Even items that are on the shelves may not be in sizes that the pantry can use.
“For instance, we’re looking for French fried onions — the ones you put on your green beans. It’s been hard to locate the size you might find in the grocery store,” Wantanabe said. “What’s available for us is large Costco-style bags, but those are more expensive for us and we would have to give this great big bag to families. It’s not efficient that way.”
The impact of shortages, and price increases that follow, go beyond food, Wantanabe said.
“The primary demographic we work with are those living in poverty, suffering from poverty,” he said “So when we look at the price of gas right now, if they are driving to work or to the doctor’s office, that impacts their budget. If they spend more on gas, there is less money for food or rent.”
The phrase “heat or eat” describes the choices some families have to make, Wantanabe said. Families who pay more for food may find there is not enough money for heat or rent.
“Can you pay your electric bill? Can you turn the thermostat down? Start to put more blankets on the bed. How cold can you let your house get while still being safe? It comes down to feelings of dignity, self-worth, self-determination,” he said.
Supply chain interruptions have also impacted a 2,000-square-foot expansion project at the Interfaith and pantry site at 712 Canby St. in Laramie. Contractors were slowed by a lack of construction materials, Wantanabe said.
The project is finally moving forward, but Wantanabe said the agency is trying to find alternatives to the 24-week lead time estimated for delivery of walk-in refrigerators.
“I’ll have a building that will be finished in the next few months, but I won’t have coolers until maybe the middle of next summer,” he said. “We’re working on looking at other options.”