As you walk through the checkout line of your local grocery store, you may get an unpleasant surprise when the register brings up your total. A study conducted by the Urban Institute earlier this year found that food insecurity among Americans is at its highest point since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago. But this time it’s inflation, not unemployment, that is the driving force behind the current difficulties in affording food.
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported recent figures from the Census Bureau stating that 25 million adults were not getting enough food over a seven day period. As the holiday season draws closer, some are turning to their local food pantries for help.
I spoke with Kris Tazelaar, Director of Marketing and Communications at Second Harvest Foodbank in Madison. We talked about the details of visiting food banks. He explained what people need to consider when planning a visit.
“Anyone can qualify to get assistance at one of the pantries that we support,” Tazelaar said.
“In addition to the food resources that we provide, they also get food resources from the government, which is essentially TEFAP food, and that stands for The Emergency Food Assistance Program. If they are going to be getting TEFAP food,then they will likely be asked to provide some kind of qualifying information. But if they’re getting any food that has been sourced from Second Harvest, we do not require any type of qualifications or any type of proof from any folks that are served with any of the food that we provide.”
One of the ways you can find a local or mobile food pantry is by going to the Second Harvest Foodbank’s website. When you put in your zip code, you’ll be given a list of nearby locations you can go to. You can also call United Way’s 211 number to get a list of locations near you. Once at a food bank or food pantry, there are a lot of options available.
“Oh honestly it’s a huge variety. Yes there are certainly lots of shelf stable food, but there’s also lots and lots of fresh produce, and there’s eggs and meat and milk,” Tazelaar explained.
Tazelaar says that, if someone is in need, they should look past the stigmas and remember that they are there to help anybody.
“You know I think to those folks who- There’s a lot of folks out there who think that others are worse off or things like that, and the reality is that there are resources out there for anyone who could benefit from getting some of those food resources to help them make ends meet,” Tazelaar said. “Those resources are there for anyone who needs help.”
Food pantries are also feeling the stresses of higher prices, and haven’t been able to rely as much on donations from grocery stores or restaurants. Tazelaar says that the availability and shortage of certain food items depends on several factors, and is highly dependent on the individual food pantry locations across the state.
“It depends on when a particular agency got a shipment from us, it also depends on their facilities, do they have things that can keep frozen products? Do they have things that can, like a cooler that can keep fresh produce for more than just a few hours?” Tazelaar said.
Some of the most commonly needed items at food pantries are peanut butter, canned tuna or chicken, boxed meals, rice, and pasta. Sources of protein which don’t need to be refrigerated or frozen are especially helpful because they can be easily stored on the shelf for a longer period of time. If you are unsure what to donate, you can call or email your local food pantry to see what specific goods they are facing shortages of.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Erin Ashley.
Image Courtesy: Aaron Doucett / UNSPLASH