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North Dakota food banks predict supply shortages as inflation, recalls hit home

The Great Plains Food Bank anticipates a 1 million pound distribution shortfall this fiscal year, equivalent to 800,000 meals.

A bearded man operates a green forklift in a somewhat bare warehouse.
Ryan Fischer, a warehouse workers at Great Plains Food Bank, loading up goods on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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FARGO — At $24 an hour, Bastian Benson has a hard time making ends meet as a diesel mechanic.

He has to pay child support. Rent is $1,025 a month, a typical mortgage price for a small home. A full tank of gas is about $100, up 64% since this time last year, according to the Consumer Price Index. Food prices have nearly doubled, with essential goods like meat and eggs increasing 13% since last month.

“It’s kind of hard to get food to the house. It used to cost me $40 for food, now it is about $70,” Benson said Thursday, July 14, while he waited for his groceries along with a growing line of 10 people outside the Emergency Food Pantry, 1101 Fourth Ave. N., Fargo.

“I used to be able to eat out at work, but now I can’t do that anymore,” he said.

To make ends meet, Benson drives on empty for a day or two before each paycheck. He packs his lunch every day. He was accepted for assistance through ND Rent Help but will have to reapply come fall.

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A small group, including a woman holding a toddler, wait on the pavement outside a building.
A line of people wait for groceries at the Emergency Food Pantry on Fourth Avenue North in Fargo on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

For now, shelves inside the Emergency Food Pantry are stocked, but Executive Director Stacie Loegering has to place orders three months in advance.

At Great Plains Food Bank, packed with produce, canned goods and other essentials a year ago, the shelves are becoming bare, said Chief Operating Officer Kate Molbert. Donors are tightening their belts as shipping costs and prices for essential items, including cardboard, are increasing.

“Is it a crisis? It could be,” Molbert said.

“We feel like we have the capacity to meet the need today, but every day, prices go higher. Every day, more people need assistance from a pantry. And as food prices rise and margins thin, you don’t want to have too much left over at the grocery store,” she said.

A woman loads packed, reusable grocery bags into pallet boxes.
Emergency Food Pantry Executive Director Stacie Loegering working in the warehouse Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The Great Plains Food Bank anticipates a 1 million pound distribution shortfall this fiscal year, equivalent to 800,000 meals, Molbert said.

“Hunger currently impacts one in six individuals throughout North Dakota,” Molbert said. “We have reached a point where the amount of food donations coming into our organization are at their lowest points since 2018, when we were serving 30,000 fewer individuals.”

In the past year, the food bank received 440,000 pounds of fresh produce donations, which is down from 2 million pounds in 2018, she said.

A woman points to a bar chart on her computer screen.
Kate Molbert, COO for Great Plains Food Bank, explains what she calls a possible impending crisis in food donations for organizations like the Great Plains Food Bank on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The shortage is now forcing the food bank to try to budget $2.2 million to purchase food this year, which is the largest financial amount needed in the organization’s 39-year history.

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For the fiscal year 2022, which ends in July, the food bank distributed 13.4 million pounds of food and is anticipating distributing 12.4 million pounds of food in the next fiscal year.

Inflation will only make lines longer at emergency food pantries, she said.

A girl and a woman load shopping carts in a warehouse.
Erin Kruize, 11, and Liz Thelen, of Fargo, work as volunteers at the Emergency Food Pantry on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

At the Emergency Food Pantry in Fargo, product recalls, like with J.M. Smucker Company due to the potential risk of salmonella last May, hurt because grocery stores are first in line for new shipments. Supplies are getting harder to find.

“A lot of things happen within the food system, and then you add in the transportation. Anything that happens in the food system will impact us, as well,” Loegering said.

She and others are also trying to provide more healthy options for clients, who they call neighbors.

“One of the solutions is financial contributions. If we have the dollars for special items, then we can provide,” she said, adding that because she orders in bulk, she has the ability to order more cheaply than families at the grocery store.

Read more on the economy:
In North Dakota, as for the rest of the country, it’s not really clear what happens next. Much will depend on how the Federal Reserve continues to manage the economy; even more will depend on how quickly inflation continues to rise.

“We have a good variety of food to give to the people requesting food. But there is a lot more work behind the scenes, and six months from now will we have that food? We just don’t know,” Loegering said.

During 2020 and 2021, food pantries saw a massive demand as the coronavirus kept many people from working, but federal funds and donations helped get the pantries through. Now, federal assistance is returning to normal, but due to inflation, demand is increasing once again, Molbert said.

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Great Plains Food Bank, which has a large logistical footprint of delivering about 1 million pounds of food across North Dakota each month, supplied meals to about 121,000 people in 2021, said Jared Slinde, communications director.

The volunteer work at food shelters and food banks is not going unnoticed. People are still showing up to offer assistance to those in need.

A boy reaches into a pallet box of potatoes as others package food in the background.
Gregor Samuelson, 11, came with his father and the St. Olaf Lutheran Church Devils Lake youth group to volunteer their time packing potatoes at Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

In the warehouse at the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, 11-year-old Gregor Samuelson worked with his father and other boys from St. Olaf Lutheran Church. They drove from Devils Lake for the work and to have some fun later, said Kelly Longden, an event organizer.

“I got four pounds only once, and that is my goal, to get exactly four pounds, and I only got it once,” Samuelson said.

At the Emergency Food Pantry, Erin Kruize, another 11-year-old, volunteered with a neighbor, Liz Thelen, a longtime helper at the pantry.

“I am just doing this to give me something to do and because someone is being helped right now,” Kruize said.

“You can give money, but you don’t know where it goes, but what she is doing is immediate. Plus, I am one of the ‘haves,’” Thelen said.

“And we have a lot of ‘have nots,’” Loegering said.

A large warehouse room has mostly empty shelves.
Empty shelves inside the freezer at the Great Plains Food Bank on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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