‘Life in volatility’: Inflation-hit charities and their clients cope with needs and costs | News

SOMERSET – The number of families receiving meat, produce and other food items from the Mobile Food Bank of Somerset County has grown over the past four months, said Benjamin Tawney, the bank’s executive director.

“We surpassed 1,500 families served last month in Somerset through the mobile food bank, which is up 150 families from the 1,350 we served three or four months ago,” Tony said.

He attributes the increase to inflation.
“There is nothing else I can determine now,” he said.


The consumer price index increased 9.1% over the past 12 months, according to the latest June report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

CPI data for July is scheduled to be released on August 10.

In the June report, the food-at-home index rose 12.2 percent over the past 12 months, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending in April 1979. All six major food group indexes for grocery stores were increased during this period, with five of the six growing by more than 10%.

The St. Vincent de Paul Food for Families Distribution Center purchases food and supplies for local food banks in Cambria County. Principal Tom Lehmann said cash donations have suffered and food is more expensive.

“Donations are not as strong with the way the economy is,” Lehman said. “So things have slowed down in that sense, and of course money doesn’t go that far.

“A few months ago we could buy a box of fruit for $22, now it’s $30. I think everyone is feeling the pinch from the economy. I don’t think there’s anything more to say about it.”

“Make them stretch”

Cumbria County Community Action Partnership Executive Director Jeff Vaughn said the need has been steady over the past two years since the COVID-19 pandemic and now with inflation and a potential recession.

“The symptoms change, but the disease is the same,” he said.

He said rental assistance and food are needs that rise to the top. CAPCC helped by offering food and referring clients to food banks.

“Donations have decreased a bit. There is not that much money for people to donate,” he said.

“For Community Action, there has been no fundraising since COVID, even through mail campaigns. At the same time, the need continues to remain strong and is now linked to inflation and post-pandemic issues. So even the donations we receive don’t seem so far away.”

Amid the inflation-driven need, the organizations were helped by money left over from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, the economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2020.

“A lot of agencies got CARES money two years ago and a two-year window to spend it,” Vaughn said. “We feel like we’re past the pandemic, but we still have that money and it’s given us money to buy things to help customers.

“But that was an extra layer of funding and it’s going to run out soon, then we’re going to have to figure out ways to get more donations or make them stretch further.”

“The Price of Everything”

The Franklin Street Food Pantry, of United Methodist Human Services, serves 420 people a month, Executive Director Cheryl Bedick Keefer said.

She said she doesn’t see more people coming to the food pantry because of inflation, even though visitors have increased in the past two years.

“We have a large elderly population and we’re seeing a lot of people who didn’t go out during the pandemic shutdown,” she said.

“And right now we’re definitely seeing that the cost of everything has gone up for everybody, they’re commenting on that and we’re seeing it on what we’re buying in addition to what we’re getting from the food banks.”

Toilet paper was once an item people bought amid pandemic panic. Now this is an item that inflation has made difficult for many to purchase.

“You hear people asking if they can have more toilet paper this week because we don’t have enough to get,” Bedick Keefer said. “SNAP benefits do not purchase non-food items, including paper products.”

Franklin Street United Methodist receives funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and serves people in the 15901 zip code. There are 18 food pantries serving various Cambria County zip codes, Bedick Keefer said.

In addition to funding from the Department of Agriculture, her pantry relies on private donations.

“Donations have declined over the past few years, and that’s true for any nonprofit,” she said. “But we haven’t had to do anything super different. Our pantry director has been doing this for a decade and is good at frugally finding everything we need and we’ve even been able to give more than we were.

“We’ve had no problem with what we can give people – and we can serve more. I think the word is getting out that pantries are open and ready to help.”

Bedick Keefer said the pantry serves people from all walks of life, from 68-year-old women to young men looking for work.

“People are doing the best they can,” she said. “There’s a lot of fighting going on. We have seen people doing their best to deal with it. We need to believe that our neighbors living in fragility have the heart to survive and thrive and are trying – just like us.”

Russ O’Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.