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Inflation and higher demand put pressure on a Northern Nevada food bank

A close-up of a box full of bright red tomatoes.
Nick Stewart
KUNR Public Radio
Tomatoes that are ready to be handed out to people at a mobile food harvest at Vaughn Middle School in Reno, Nev., on May 19, 2022.

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada is seeing a higher number of people needing services — but inflation is making it harder to get food.

On a warm afternoon in May, a large truck from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada was parked next to Vaughn Middle School in Reno for what it calls a mobile food harvest. Numerous volunteers were out on the sidewalk with boxes full of fresh produce to hand out to locals.

Many of the clients at this event arrived on foot in order to save gas. That’s because inflation rates are currently at their highest since the early 1980s, and this means basic needs are more costly. For example, the food bank has seen the price of dairy and eggs shoot up more than 60% in the past year, and that has made it harder for food banks to serve people.

“We get excess food. So if there isn’t a lot of excess around, then we will receive less donations, and with more people that need our help, then, you know, we need to go get that food somewhere else, or purchase more food, which is what we are doing. And luckily, the community has been very generous,” said Jocelyn Lantrip with the food bank.

As of now, the food bank serves 115,000 people per month. That’s up from last year when they were serving 108,000 people per month.

“Because of the increases in costs for everything, food included, we have seen an increase in people needing our services,” said Lantrip.

Aramelle Wheeler is a regular volunteer at these events. She explains why the food bank chose to set up in this area.

“There are a lot of these low-income neighborhoods, where really when you think within the boundaries of that neighborhood, you’re not going to find a lot of grocery shopping options, and that limits people even if they do have the financial means to be able to do the grocery shopping,” said Wheeler.

That’s because even if someone has the funds to buy food, they may not be able to afford gas, which remains pricey for many.

“Many times, these are families who have no transportation or one vehicle in the home, and, you know, someone is using that ticket back and forth to their job. If they are able to afford within their budget bus passes, it still puts a lot of barriers to someone to try to go do their grocery shopping on a bus,” said Wheeler.

Those oil prices are also contributing to the increase in food prices.

“There is included in your final food pay cost not only the cost of the commodity but the cost of the intermediary such as the cost of diesel, which has really gone up. I know we’ve seen gasoline going up but transporting our products is costly,” said Tom Harris, an economics professor from UNR.

Despite all this bad news, Wheeler wants people to know that getting help from the food bank doesn’t have to be hard.

“Getting assistance for the food bank is really quite simple. There aren’t a lot of hurdles that you have to go through. And we really believe strongly in serving every single person who needs the help from us with all of the dignity and care that they deserve,” said Wheeler.

Lisa Carver is a Reno resident who gets food from these harvests. She says the food bank has benefited her greatly, especially when trying to save money for other needs.

“I’m able to stop here, and it’s really been a godsend. I just got gas today for the first time in two weeks because I really don't drive that much; I have to use the premium, and it's $6.08 a gallon,” said Carver a few weeks ago.

For Carver, she’s faced more than just higher food and gas prices. She says rent has been a large challenge as well and wishes the city would acknowledge this.

“I’ve heard of seniors being charged a $400 increase. Ours was $200, and that hurt us enough. That’s grocery money. That’s gas, utilities even, you know, so I just wish they realize the true impact. If they had to live our life for a couple of weeks or a month, maybe they would get it; nobody makes that kind of money here,” said Carver.

Until there’s relief on the price of gas and groceries, it’s likely food banks will continue to serve an increasing number of people while also facing the challenge of collecting food to hand out.

Nick Stewart is a former student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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