Guest opinion: While prices increase, so does food insecurity in Lee County

·3 min read

At a time when food needs are increasing and seasonal volunteers leave for the summer, Community Cooperative is feeling the pinch.

Rising gas and grocery prices are reducing our ability to meet the needs of clients, even as their needs increase. Most of our food costs are up at least 10%, and in some cases, we are paying double for the same items over last year.

Higher grocery prices mean the dollars we use to purchase food for Sam’s Community Café and Kitchen, our Community Market, mobile food pantries and Meals on Wheels are not going as far. Here are just a few of the price increases we have been seeing from this time last year:

  • Carton of milk $.30 to $.50

  • Six gallons of vegetable oil $30 to $81

  • 36 pounds of butter $73 to $133

  • Case of celery $25 to $55

  • Case of Romaine lettuce $27 to $54

  • 40 pounds of chicken $25 to $98

As we face these increases, families who were already struggling to make ends meet at the grocery store now have the added pressure of higher gas prices to get to work. Our mobile food pantries, which increased during the pandemic and had been returning to pre-pandemic levels, are again seeing a surge in need. We have 40% more new clients at our mobile food pantries over last month at some of our locations.

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Our efforts to meet the needs of the area’s hungry have also been highly impacted by rising gas prices. From the trucks getting the food to us and picking up food to take to mobile food pantries and Meals on Wheels sites around Lee County, costs have increased. Our own trucks deliver Meals on Wheels to the far reaches of Southwest Florida, as we deliver in Lehigh Acres, Bonita Springs and Cape Coral.

Gas prices are even impacting our clients who do not drive. Higher gas prices are affecting our Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers, many who are retired and on fixed incomes themselves. Our delivery drivers cover more than 900 miles every day to deliver food to our neighbors.

Every year, the number of Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers drops by about 55% for the summer as seasonal residents leave, and this year, we have also lost a handful of drivers to rising gas prices. As gas prices continue to soar, it is becoming more difficult to recruit new delivery drivers, even as we have seen a 13% increase in clients served since January.

While our Meals on Wheels recipients are shielded from the rising cost of their meals, our costs have increased 36% for food and containers, not including the human cost of preparation.

Rising prices, which squeeze everyone’s budget, are also resulting in fewer food and financial donations to our efforts. We are like everyone trying to budget to meet needs with ever-increasing costs and doing so as our food and financial donations are down by 60% for this time of year.

How can the community help?

Each year we host a School’s Out, Hunger’s Not food drive to help support the thousands of families in Lee County who struggle to make ends meet during the summer when children are no longer receiving free school lunches.

Individuals, businesses, organizations, churches and community groups can support the School’s Out, Hunger’s Not campaign by hosting food drives, volunteering and giving financially. Food drives can range from simple collection days to engaging social donation events.

Through August, Community Cooperative is looking for additional volunteers for its Sam’s Community Café & Kitchen, Community Market and mobile food pantries as well as volunteers to help deliver Meals on Wheels.

Since our founding, we have relied on the support of the community members and businesses who are able to help our neighbors. T

Stefanie Edwards is the CEO of Community Cooperative. For information on how to volunteer or arrange a food drive, call (239) 332-7687. Monetary donations are always welcomed and can be made directly at CommunityCooperative.com, or mailed to: Community Cooperative, P.O. Box 2143, Fort Myers, FL 33902.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Food insecurity challenges include cost of meat, produce and gas