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Food banks are having a hard time stocking shelves as food prices rise

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The price of food is rising, and some products are hard to come by. This is beginning to affect food banks as more Americans need them. Number of people relying on food banks has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. One food bank in Oakland, Calif., is having to spend $60,000 more a month to feed their clients. Regi Young is executive director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank and joins us from Oakland. Mr. Young, thanks so much for being with us.

REGI YOUNG: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Sixty thousand dollars is a lot of extra to be able to afford. How are you able to do it?

YOUNG: Yes. And so it actually is a lot more for us as an organization, particularly as a nonprofit. We actually have to be prepared for disasters on an ongoing basis, and so everything from an earthquake to a fire. We've been fortunate that our community has been able to kind of support us to ensure that we have enough reserves in order for times like this.

SIMON: Have you been running low on food, or is that over the horizon if things don't change?

YOUNG: We've had to make a lot of really tough choices. So one of the things that we're seeing is that for our core food items, they've all gone up in price from about 3% up to 17%. So we have to be very mindful about what type of product that we're bringing in, how much of that product we're having and essentially trying to stretch our dollar as much as possible to ensure that families in our community have the food that they need.

SIMON: Well, give us some specifics, if you could, about some of the choices that you wrestle with.

YOUNG: For items such as fruits and vegetables, canned meats, proteins and so forth, those are places in which if we're not able to get a certain type of item, we can substitute it with another item. So one of the things that we've been struggling to get are - is canned tuna. Well, fortunately, we had a grant from Costco recently in which we were able to purchase items like canned tuna, as well as things like canned chicken and so forth, to ensure that we still have enough protein to give out to our families.

SIMON: We see stories every day about problems in the supply chain. I assume this has affected you. Can you tell us how you've noticed that and how it's been building up?

YOUNG: Yeah. So there's really two things that we've been seeing as it relates to the supply chain. The first is that the costs of food are dramatically higher for us. But the second is essentially the lead times. And so last year, we were able to get things from about two to three weeks. However, today, we have to really double that time frame in which we're ordering products. So there's a lot longer lead time. And quite frankly, we're not always assured that we're going to get the food items that we order.

SIMON: The holidays are coming up, a time of plenty. And I know that it's important to have some celebration there, too. Are you going to be able to do that?

YOUNG: I think one of the things that we are recognizing is that the pandemic is not over, and the struggles that families are experiencing on a daily basis are continuing to go on. And food is one of those things that people enjoy during the holidays on an ongoing basis. And so we're going to do everything that we can to ensure that people have that food on the table and they can enjoy the holidays, as anybody should.

SIMON: What you're doing is important work. It strikes me that it's become even more urgent. Would that be fair to say?

YOUNG: That's absolutely fair to say. I would say that in our county specifically, we've seen a dramatic increase in food insecurity. We're still seeing unemployment rates within Alameda County at two times what they were before the pandemic started. And so one of the things that we're always trying to reiterate is that we're still in the midst of a disaster. I came here from Houston. And the way that I think about recovery is from the standpoint of a hurricane. And so when a hurricane is coming, you can see it, you experience it, then it goes away. The storm has not gone away in Alameda County and throughout our country, and so we should not treat it as if it has.

And so even when we are in a recovery state, the reality is that there's never been an equitable recovery. And so we have to be very mindful about how we are progressing to ensure that all families within our communities have what they need.

SIMON: Regi Young is executive director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

YOUNG: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.