“We struggle every day”: Tightening supply chain threatens to leave some of Americans most in need without enough to eat
The 61-year-old man has stage 4 endometrial cancer and has little income. For the past eight months, she has relied on food from MANNA, a nonprofit organization that provides free meals to more than 1,200 of Philadelphia’s sickest people.
“I even gained a few pounds despite my illness,” Greenlee said. “God only knows how grateful I am for the meals.
But a crisis is looming in MANNA. Their food costs have increased by 40%, they say, and by December, they will likely have to stop accepting new customers – perhaps hundreds of them.
“This is going to break our hearts,” said Sue Daugherty, CEO of MANNA. “But we couldn’t have predicted this for a million years.”
Right now, schools and nonprofits are facing price hikes and food shortages.
Food banks across the country are facing a drop in donations.
“What we are seeing is that our food banks have to increase their purchases, which of course costs them a lot of money to get the food they need for their communities,” said Katie Fitzgerald, COO of Feeding America. “Even donated food is reduced due to the increased cost of food. So, for example, the manufacturers are able to give us less because they can sell these foods on the secondary market, because of their increased value.
At El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, a large food bank in El Paso, Texas, demand has quadrupled since the start of the pandemic. Now trucks full of food are simply not reaching their desert community.
“We struggle every day to find an adequate supply,” said CEO Susan Goodell. “We are completely dependent on manufacturers, suppliers, brokers, retailers, etc. So, at the end of the day, we are not in control of our fate when it comes to how much food is actually available.”
The Texas food bank is already facing a labor shortage, which has forced it to close three of its five locations, forcing some families to travel long distances to obtain food.
“The biggest fear is that we [don’t] have enough food to feed people, ”she said. “If they don’t come, I’ll use my money to buy them turkeys for a good Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Supply chain problems have also plagued schools, with food deliveries constantly being delayed or canceled.
In June, the Philadelphia school district grocery seller abandoned them, citing the supply chain and a labor shortage. District orders have been unpredictable throughout the year.
“These are actually vendors who don’t make products,” said Amy Virus, district administrative and support services manager. “We are really working behind the scenes to make sure we have something on the menu for the students.”
Their schools are missing different articles every week. At the moment, they are running out of paper trays. The district changes menus daily, even though its catering staff is down by more than 20%.
The district insists that the quality and quantity of their meals have not changed. But Stefanie Marrero started making lunch for her four children due to concerns about their nutrition.
“They came home every day hungry and wanted a full meal as soon as they walked through the door,” Marrero said, adding that the packed lunches have become a financial burden on his family.
A national school problem
School districts across the country face the same supply issues.
“Our vendors don’t have enough manpower to produce all of the food and supplies we ordered, and the distributors don’t have enough truck drivers to get the goods to us,” Beth said. Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “So our school nutrition professionals have to go to great lengths to get healthy food on the shelves of all of our students every day. “
Cincinnati public schools are running out of up to 20 food items each week. Denver schools can’t find enough milk. And Dallas public schools are adding more and more appetizers, like chicken fillets, because they don’t have enough utensils.
In Prince George County, Md., The public school district, citing the supply chain, canceled take-out lunches, which largely benefit children from low-income families.
Oscar Rivera has two sons in the district and is currently unemployed. Her family is now spending more on groceries and turning to food banks to put dinner on the table.
“We can’t say ‘we’re going out for fun’ anymore because we have to buy food first,” Rivera said through an interpreter. “Food is the most important thing that can exist in a house. Toys don’t matter, going out doesn’t matter, but food does.”
Yet districts are reporting increased food budgets. This includes Philadelphia, where the extra spending hasn’t bought stability.
“I have a few sayings in my office and this is one of them: ‘what’s the crisis this week’,” said Amy Virus of the Philadelphia School District. “We’re getting good at it, but it’s really a chore and we need some stability in the supply chain.”
CNN’s Matt Egan contributed to this report.