Putting food on younger people’s tables getting harder as well
In a time of soaring inflation, buying enough food has become difficult for seniors living on fixed, or anyone living on low incomes.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, energy prices were 33.8% higher in May than they were a year earlier, and food prices were up 12%, while prices of other items were up 5.9%.
Local programs that help with food are seeing the strain, both on food banks and on clients.
Stephanie Moss, director of Main Street Ministries, said clients’ needs rose dramatically in 2020 and has not yet relented.
“We saw needs increase for housing, food, all kinds of things,” she said.
Moss said demand for help peaked last year around this time, eased some, and then began to rise again.
Besides distributing commodities, Main Street operates a food bank, provides housing for women and children as needed, and assists with other items.
“I’m going to say out loud we have had some amazing support for our bank,” Moss said.
Client demand dropped off in February and March at Main Street’s food bank but rose again when kids were let out of school.
The price of gasoline has definitely caused problems for clients, Moss said.
“We are open to other people picking up for the family,” she said. “We do occasionally make deliveries, but that depends on how well staffed we are that weekend. My encouragement would be to have people reach out for all kinds of needs,. If we have it, we will share it. If we don’t have it, maybe we can find it. If we can’t find it, maybe we can supplement it. We’re really in this together.”
Beyond food and commodities, Main Street works with Walmart in McPherson to provide items such as coats, laundry products, and hygiene items.
“Really, we never know what we’re going to get from Walmart,” Moss said.
Gene Winkler, Marion County Resource Center and Food Bank board member, said recent weeks had seen demand rise sharply.
“Last night I got a text that we served 113 people,” Winkler said. “Usually it runs in the 60s or 70s.”
The food bank ran out of meat Thursday. It usually doesn’t buy meat until the 21st, he said.
“We’re getting new people that never have been to the food bank,” he said.
When gasoline prices interfere with clients being able to get to the food bank, they have to be creative. A woman who lives close enough to walk brought a wire basket mounted on wheels to pick up food.
“That happens more than we’d like,” board member Gerry Henderson said.
The food bank buys from Kansas Food Bank in Wichita.
“Last month I ordered 25 banana boxes of meat, and we didn’t get them,” he said.
The food bank hasn’t cut back on how much it to distributes to clients, Henderson said.
“We may change a little bit, depending on what’s on sale. As for inflation,” he said, “I hope we can get this covered before too long.”
Winkler said the food bank was working on finding a way to go to other towns in the county but hasn’t found a way to do that and still be able to purchase enough food for its clients.
Henderson said contributions were up.
“Last week, we got a call from Dale’s Supermarket that they had a man who wanted to donate $1,000 and have it delivered to the food bank,” he said.
The food bank and the Marion Senior Center get fresh produce from Marion’s community garden.
Henderson said the economy won’t always be this way.
“It will get better,” he said. “The sooner it gets better, the more we’ll be able to serve our neighbors the way we’d like to.”
The food bank assists anyone who says he or she needs help. Proof of income is not required, but questions such as number of people in the household and ages of clients are asked for the sake of making reports.
“We cannot eliminate hunger in Marion County, but we can help it with people who can get here,” Henderson said.
Not everyone is seeing dire impacts. Kathy Bernhardt, cook for Marion’s Senior Center, said she was seeing the same clientele as always come for daily lunch, and they do not seem to be having trouble paying for their meals.
Gayla Ratzlaff, director of the department on aging, said the government has had difficulty buying food. Labor shortages, supply chain problems, and elimination of extra finding related to COVID-19 have contributed to commodities being switched back to coming only every other month.
The department on aging will help seniors apply for Vision, formerly food stamps.
“If they give us all their stuff, we’ll fill it out and fax it in so it gets there quicker,” Ratzlaff said.
Among longstanding programs that could help are farmers market checks available to people 60 and older who meet income guidelines. Income limits are $2,096 a month per householder plus roughly $728 per additional person in the household.
Checks can be used to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey at Kansas farmers markets.
Government commodities also are available every other month at senior centers and Main Street Ministries in Hillsboro. The next distribution will be in July.
Information is available from the county department on aging at (620) 382-3580.