Frederick County food banks see greater need amid rising inflation

·5 min read

Aug. 6—As inflation rises, food banks in Frederick County are seeing an increased need, and some of their clients are people who have never before sought donations.

At the Frederick Rescue Mission, the number of visitors to the food distribution center went up by about 600 people in July 2022 compared to July 2021. The distribution center, at 419 W. South St. in Frederick, provides fresh and nonperishable groceries for people to take home.

"We've definitely seen an increase," Executive Director Arnold Farlow said Thursday.

There were 1,419 visits to the distribution center in July 2021, compared to 2,034 in July 2022, data provided by the rescue mission showed.

Numbers have been rising steadily since April 2022. There were 1,704 visits in April, 1,910 in May and 1,956 in June. There were 1,935 visits in March.

Farlow could not say for certain why the numbers are rising, but he has an idea.

"Of course, we are all sitting here assuming inflation," he said in an interview at the rescue mission.

Jasmine Sneed, partnership development director for the mission, said prices are clearly rising.

"We've seen it on our own pocketbooks," she said.

It costs the rescue mission about $450 to fill up one of its refrigerated box trucks, according to Farlow.

The Consumer Price index rose 1.3% in June, seasonally adjusted, and 9.1% over the past 12 months, not seasonally adjusted, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average household is paying an extra $311.78 per month to "purchase the same basket of goods and services as last year," according to the Maryland Food Bank's July 2022 food insecurity research report.

And in June, nearly 47% of families said their children were "sometimes or often not eating enough because food was not affordable," the report said.

What is in demand at the grocery store affects the type of donations the Frederick Rescue Mission receives, according to Sneed. She said more people are buying bottled water as summer heats up, for instance, so there are fewer water bottles coming to the mission.

The temperature hovered around 100 degrees Thursday outside the rescue mission as a line formed an hour before food distribution began. Sneed said they try to keep people in the shade.

"That's not just today," Sneed said.

The nonprofit also delivers bags of groceries across the county to partner organizations, such as I Believe in Me, which distributes them to people in other locations. Sneed said there has been an increase in the number of organizations seeking groceries for their own food distributions.

"And they're seeing people that weren't coming before," Sneed said.

Some people walk to the rescue mission to pick up food, but lately, Farlow has noticed more vehicles in the rescue mission's gravel parking lot. Employed people, those with their own transportation, are seeking food assistance, he said.

Food banks in the Thurmont and Urbana areas have seen a jump in need recently, too.

"The Thurmont Food Bank is definitely seeing an increase in the number of people requesting food," the Rev. Sally Joyner Giffin wrote in an email Thursday. "Many of the people coming in have never needed to ask for food from a food bank."

She recalled a recent food bank client crying because she was ashamed to ask for help. The woman thanked volunteers profusely.

"She said it was a lifesaving gift because she couldn't afford food after paying rent and medical bills," Joyner Giffin wrote.

The Thurmont Food Bank distributes about 15,000 pounds of food per month, and that number is growing, according to Joyner Giffin.

Jo Ostby and her husband, Larry, operate the Greater Urbana Area Food Bank out of their home. She said they were serving 293 families as of Thursday, which represents more than 800 men, women and children.

Ostby said she noticed an uptick recently, and "numbers are hugely different" since the COVID-19 pandemic began. One person recently told Ostby they saw their grocery bill jump significantly in the span of a week, which led them to the food bank.

Conflicts overseas have also affected the local food bank. Roughly 15 Afghan refugee families living in the area have been coming for food assistance, according to Ostby.

"Food bank people need the same things that everyone else needs," Ostby said.

In Emmitsburg and Brunswick, the need does not appear to be as dire as elsewhere in the county.

Emmitsburg Food Bank manager Phyllis Kelly estimated they are serving about 40 families a month now, but that number stood around 52 in July, which was "way high." Kelly has seen new people at the food bank, and past visitors coming more often.

"We're here to help you so you can pay bills," Kelly said Thursday.

At the Brunswick Food Bank, numbers are on the lower side. There have been fewer clients in the past few months compared to previous years, food bank manager Jennifer Effler said.

However, she expects more visitors when school begins again, since the universal free school lunch program is set to expire this year. Since March 2020, all students have been eligible to receive free cafeteria lunches due to federal waivers. That will not continue into the 2022-2023 school year.

There is also concern at the Frederick Rescue Mission over the end of free school lunch. Sneed said there is "angst" among the rescue mission's partners.

"It's fairly abrupt in its transition for families," Sneed said. "We're all scrambling and saying, 'Goodness, how do we make sure these kids are taken care of during this transition time?'"

Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller