Food Bank feels the strain 

As emptying shelves, rising food costs and declining individual donations accompany an unseen spike in new clients, the Missoula Food Bank is facing an untimely budget crunch—in the middle of one of its crucial seasons.

“Food prices are rising for everyone,”says Nick Roberts, the Food Bank’s directorof development.

Roughly half of the Food Bank’s current food donations come from major donors like local catering services, restaurants and grocers who give high volumes of food with a limited lifespan, which would otherwise be discarded. This food, however, must be re-packaged and distributed quickly.

That’s where non-perishable donations come in. In the Food Bank’s day-to-day operations, non-perishables help keep the nonprofit from having to spend money on buying food staples, according to Dean Thompson, the organization’s food circle program coordinator. The other portion of the Food Bank’s donations come from individual donations and purchased non-perishable foods. This part of theequation–individual donations—is where Roberts and Thompson both say the Food Bank is feeling the pinch.

“We’re seeing less of the random cupboard cleaners who stop by with donations,” Roberts says. The Food Bank’s staff say suppliers of staples like rice and pasta have bumped up prices by 55 percent in the past year, forcing the Bank to pay more and find alternative suppliers.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Kids Café, a summer meal delivery program for children who normally receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, is just ramping up. Yet donations from individuals are dropping—and the surge of donations that come each holiday season are almost gone from the shelves.

As if that weren’t enough, the organization is seeing an unusual spike in clients, which they expect to continue. From January through March, the Food Bank had an average of about 1,364 individual clients who came for food. In April, the number hit 1,513. The crunch puts staff like Roberts in the unusual position of playing commodities investor—speculating on rice, energy, or wheat prices to potentially stock-up on one resource before a price hike. “We’re having to be much more strategic and begin to think farther out than we ever had to before,” Roberts explains.


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