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Food banks: Donating cash is the best way to help

The rising cost of food is hitting local food banks. They say the best way for people to help is by donating money, since they can stretch it by buying in bulk.

MANTECA, Calif. — Grocery shoppers nationwide are noticing that some food is costing more this year, due to rising inflation and supply chain problems leading to delivery delays. That same issue is hitting local food banks, who are providing meals to a growing number of families.

ABC10 is partnering with local food banks to Stand Against Hunger, so ABC10 asked about what challenges they’re facing right now – and how people can make the biggest impact.

RELATED: Join ABC10 and Wells Fargo in the Stand Against Hunger

“It is a very real issue, especially here with the rising cost of food and rent and gas,” said Jessica Vaughan, development director for Second Harvest of the Greater Valley, which – like so many people across the U.S. – is seeing changes in the cost and availability of food.

“When we are purchasing a pallet of food, it's going to go ahead and cost us about 15% to 20% more than it did this time last year or even six months ago,” Vaughan said, adding that corporate partners like Raley’s, Walmart and Foster Farms have remained consistent and supportive despite the current challenges.

Jorge Lupercio, director of operations at the Placer Food Bank, said they’re seeing cost increases up to 20% as well, especially for high-demand staples like grains, meat and canned fruits and vegetables. Certain foods, like peanut butter, are hard to find altogether, he said.

“In some instances, we place an order with a vendor and receive a third of that product,” Lupercio said.

This is especially worrisome because the number of people that food banks serve typically increases as they head into the holiday season.

Amid food delays and shortages, Second Harvest of the Greater Valley ordered their Thanksgiving food a full two months earlier than normal this year, Vaughan said. That organization serves eight counties including San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne.

“Once we do place those orders, they are taking on average three to four weeks longer than normal to get to us,” Vaughan said.

RELATED: Thousands of military families struggle with food insecurity

Joy Cohan, the Yolo Food Bank’s director of philanthropic engagement, said gathering enough poultry for Thanksgiving meal distributions was a challenge.

“In the end, we got enough turkeys, but we were prepared to pivot to chickens or some other menu item because we could not count on the same resources that we had in the past,” she said.

While many people are in the giving spirit during the holidays, the need continues past that season.

“Moving into January, February, March –  after the holidays are done…that's when food banks really need that extra additional support,” Vaughan said.

Local food banks like Second Harvest of the Greater Valley, Placer Food Bank, Yolo Food Bank, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and Yuba-Sutter Food Bank say donations of cash are the most helpful, since they’re able to buy in bulk.

As Michelle Downing, CEO of Yuba-Sutter Food Bank, put it, “We work with major manufacturers, retailers, and farmers to secure healthy food to put more meals on the tables of families than if people donated food they purchased at the store.”

She said according to the nationwide, non-profit food bank network Feeding America, “the average food insecure person reports needing the equivalent of 5.6 meals per week, and one meal equals 1.2 pounds of food. Based on the number of pounds the Yuba-Sutter Food Bank distributed, we provided over 342K meals in 2020.”

Second Harvest says they can turn your $1 donation into $5 worth of food. Yolo Food Bank says they can turn $1 into $5.50 worth of food; that’s about three meals per dollar.

Plus, donating food items means food banks need to spend extra time checking to make sure all those donations are things they can accept —meaning properly labeled, not expired and not already opened.

While money is the most useful donation, time is also very valuable. 

“We're ready to welcome volunteers back,” Vaughan said. “We couldn't continue the capacity that we are serving at without having those extra hands.”

RELATED: Families rely on food distributions in rural 'food desert' communities

Lupercio at Placer Food Bank agrees.

“Anything and everything we do, volunteers make that happen,” he said. “They’re the magic that make everything happen for us.”

“We see an increase in volunteers around the holidays, but the need is year-round for us,” said Downing.

“Volunteers are pivotal to what we do,” said Cohan. “We’re super grateful to the community for all of the support throughout the pandemic, and as the pandemic continues and we move into a resilience phase, their support of all kinds is really critical to what we do.”

This is especially true as one-time funds that came in the form of federal grants during the height of the pandemic are now tapering off, Cohan said.

Ultimately, Vaughan said, remember that the people you’re helping could literally be the folks next door.

“The face of who is hungry has changed very much In the last 20 months...COVID was kind of an equalizer for people,” she said. “Some people that had never, ever in a million years thought they would be coming to a food bank found themselves needing food…so when you're making those donations, when you're signing up to volunteer, you really are helping your neighbor, your co-worker, that child in your kid’s class that you see every day.”

Join ABC10 and Wells Fargo in a donation drive where each dollar raised goes directly to YOUR community through our local food banks. Everything raised stays 100% local. That means you can make a direct impact on a neighbor's life. Join us in spreading some holiday cheer for our community members. Learn more here: www.abc10.com/standagainsthunger.

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