Las Vegas food banks fight rising food and transportation prices

Rising food and transportation costs hit southern Nevada food banks and pantries as nonprofits grapple with the effects of supply chain disruptions while balancing unprecedented use in the past 18 months.

In places where families and seniors can get staples, fresh foods, and even a Thanksgiving turkey for a week or two, staff must work diligently to secure foods that are rising in price or availability. decreases.

According to the Consumer Price Index, food prices have increased significantly over the past year. All foods increased an average of 5.3 percent in October from the previous 12 months. The biggest jump is in meat, poultry, fish and eggs – up 11.9% in October 2021 from prices in October 2020.

“When food prices go up, then those who are already food insecure, it only gets worse,” said Ian McDonough, an economist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who studies insecurity. local food. “(It) puts more pressure on budgets; the dollar does not go that far. And we’re talking about the most basic need: food.

Trucking costs

But where it hits pantries and banks, freight costs are perhaps the hardest, some local nonprofits have said.

As the trucking industry sees far fewer drivers on the road than necessary, businesses and independent drivers can grab the highest bidder. That can leave nonprofits on the last line, said Larry Scott, chief operating officer of Three Square, the only food bank in southern Nevada.

“Other than the food we collect from grocery stores and restaurants, most of the food we get here is trucked in,” Scott said, noting the limited food crops available in the state. “In most cases, transportation costs have certainly doubled and in some cases tripled the cost of delivering food. This is the biggest material impact.

Three Square acts as the Feeding America subsidiary of Southern Nevada and distributes its inventory to dozens of pantries across the Las Vegas Valley. About 30 percent of the food he buys is directly purchased by the nonprofit organization; the rest is split between the federal government’s commodities program and the Local Food Rescue, a procurement program that gets unused products from grocery stores and restaurants.

The food bank relies on its food rescue and commodities to fill the gaps in expensive or slower-to-deliver foods that it purchases directly, Scott said. The warehouse’s $ 3 million inventory also assures Scott that the pantries will remain stocked.

Transportation costs are also a major concern for The Just One Project, a pantry that partners with Three Square and does some of its own shopping. Founder Brooke Neubauer said the impact is particularly evident on the fruit and vegetable supply, which is a top priority for the association’s mobile food banks and a community market in downtown Las Vegas. She estimates that the costs of shipping products from California have doubled or tripled the costs in an average year.

“It has been very difficult for us to provide all the fresh produce – the fresh fruits and vegetables that we are used to supplying and it has driven our costs so high,” she said.

Food safety organizations must absorb costs or rely more on other sources to avoid impact on customers. And while the kids are back to school with access to free breakfast and lunch, the elderly may feel the effects of inflation on food more acutely.

Food insecurity among those 60 and over in southern Nevada is 36.7%, according to a survey conducted by McDonough and other UNLV researchers in November and December 2020. Their fixed incomes mean they have less purchasing power as food prices rise.

Surprise impacts

How long this will last is unclear. Economists expect the inflation rate to cool down as the supply of goods may match the recovery in demand, but they need more data to predict when that might be, McDonough said. .

“It’s not something like the inflation of the 70s,” McDonough said. “It literally stems from turning off the global economy like a switch, given the pandemic, and then suddenly reactivating it. So it’s hard to say that we have enough data to really know when this spike in inflation will subside. “

While Scott is confident the nonprofit can get what it needs, as contracts with suppliers and freight companies are often finalized several months before delivery, some hurdles persist, he said. declared.

“The surprises come in that some products can’t happen,” Scott said. “Sometimes we can’t get the product in because they can’t get the aluminum cans.”

Scott notes that it’s an assortment of things needed to make everything work.

“You have the product that goes in the can, you have the cans, you have the drivers, you have the fuel costs. There are so many different obstacles to get there. It is the complete composition of the barriers that makes our days long.

McKenna Ross is a member of the body of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. Contact her at [email protected] To follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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