St. Mary’s Food Bank saw the woes of inflation “skyrocket” the needs of Phoenix families.
About 150,000 families were fed last month as the nonprofit faces a shortage of volunteers, CEO and President Tom Kertis said in an interview. That’s 26,000 more families than July and 40,000 more families than August 2021, according to St. Mary’s spokesman Jerry Brown.
Since August 2019, at St. Mary’s two main distribution centers, located in Phoenix and Surprise, there has been a 60% increase in the number of families needing help, Brown said.
“Inflation is just hitting families here on all sides,” affecting gas prices, food expenses, medical bills and rent, Kertis said. “We have seen the number of people asking us for help skyrocket.”
The rate of families St. Mary’s provided with food in a record-breaking August is part of a spike that began in the spring, Kertis said.
COVID-19 relief funding has begun to dry up and demand is currently higher than it has been since the start of the pandemic, when the average monthly food distributed by St. Mary’s was 10 million pounds.
September will likely see those needs increase as families recover from back-to-school expenses, the food bank chief said.
“The need continues to grow,” Kertis said. “We’re actually surprised how much the need has increased. We anticipated maybe a small impact from inflation, but not to this magnitude.”
Metro Phoenix inflation hit 12.3% from a year earlier ending in June, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The people St. Mary’s serves are generally “the working poor,” Kertis said.
“In today’s world, (families) still have to buy gas, but now they’re spending double what they used to spend on gas, so it eats into the budget. And very little of their budget are things they can control and food is one of them,” Kertis said.
Typically, the food bank provides an emergency food box including cans and non-perishable pasta. Fresh products and proteins such as chicken or beef are also distributed.
Cash donations are the best donations, Kertis said, since St. Mary’s buys food from canneries and growers.
In addition to monetary donations, Kertis spoke of the need to double its number of volunteers to help pack food boxes. Kertis said the organization has struggled to get bodies in since a transition to remote work shortened promotion of employer volunteering opportunities.
“Many times when people were walking into the office, their office would then say, ‘Hey, let’s have a volunteer day and go to St. Mary’s and pack boxes of food as part of a team-building event.’ , and people were signing up for it,” he said. “We would love to see our volunteer numbers double. It would help get us on the right track and make sure all our boxes are filled.”
Before the pandemic hit, Brown said the St. Mary’s Phoenix and Surprise sites would employ an average of about 200 volunteers a day, a number that dropped by 80%.
Whatever challenges the food bank may face, Kertis is adamant that no one in need should be turned away.
“St. Mary’s is here for the community during this difficult time,” Kertis said. “If you need help, you can ask for help and we’re here to help.”
Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can learn more at firstfoodbank.org/get-involved.
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