by Stefanie Edwards, CEO
One in six children may experience food insecurity, and those numbers are increasing.
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 increasing the needs of many in our community, many of whom have never needed our services before. This inflation is also impacting us as an organization financially. Fuel and food costs are up and, in some cases, we are paying more than double for the same items over last year’s prices.
Higher grocery prices mean the donated dollars we use to purchase food for Sam’s Community Café, our Community Market, mobile food pantries, and Meals on Wheels are not going nearly as far. Here are just a few of the price increases we have been seeing from this time last year:
Carton of milk 30 cents to 50 cents
Vegetable oil (six-gallon case) $30 to $81
Butter (case of 36 lbs.) $73 to $133
Case of celery $25 to $55
Case of romaine lettuce $27 to $54
Chicken thighs (40 lbs.case) $25 to $98
People who were already struggling to make ends meet at the grocery store are now sacrificing food to accommodate the higher gas prices so they can get to work. Our mobile food pantries continue to see a huge surge in need with many new faces. We have 40% more new clients at our mobile food pantries over the last month at some of our locations.
Our efforts to meet the needs of our community’s food insecure population 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 everywhere. Our own trucks deliver emergency groceries and meals to the far reaches of Southwest Florida, as we deliver in Lehigh Acres, Bonita Springs, North Fort Myers 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 of whom are retired and on fixed incomes themselves. Our delivery drivers cover more than 900 miles every day to help deliver food to homebound seniors.
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 16% 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, containers and propane to prepare meals, not including the human cost of preparation. Lastly, the rising prices, which squeezes everyone’s budget, are also resulting in fewer food and financial donations to our efforts. Similar to individuals, nonprofits, and companies, we are 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?
Support our School’s Out, Hunger’s Not food drive. By doing so, you will help support the thousands of families in Lee County who struggle to make ends meet during the summer when children aren’t 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 in 1984, we have relied on the support of the community members and businesses who are able to help our neighbors. Community Cooperative (still referred to as the Soup Kitchen), is a nonprofit organization that continues to develop innovative solutions to eliminating hunger and homelessness in Lee County.