Inflation hits Michigan food banks hard as statewide need increases during the holidays

Courtesy photo from Food Bank Council of Michigan.

By Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance

Some food banks in Michigan are spending significantly more than what they normally would to stock shelves this holiday season as inflation strains the food supply chain in the state.

Phil Knight, the executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, said food distribution was at its peak in 2021 during the pandemic when the food bank increased their distributions by 47% and distributed over 230 million pounds of food. Before that the most the statewide food bank network ever distributed in a year was 165 million pounds of food. 

About 40% of that food last year came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Knight said. According to the Food Bank Council of Michigan, the amount of food coming from the USDA has dropped to about 6% of the total distributed food.

“Currently, there’s virtually no food available to the Feeding America food banks, and food banks here in Michigan in particular, from the USDA,” he said. 

During the pandemic, federal agencies were deployed to help decrease the rapidly growing food insecurity.

According to the state’s Food Security Council (FSC), food insecurity grew by about 38% in 2020, impacting approximately 1.9 million Michiganders, including 552,000 children.

The FSC was created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in August 2020 as an advisory body in the state Department of Health and Human Services to inform the state’s response to food insecurity, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Without the federal support, Knight said that inflation and an increased global demand for agricultural products are also creating hardships at food banks. 

Inflation has been slowly decreasing over the last few months, but the price of food is still higher than normal. High food costs are making it more difficult for food banks to purchase enough food to meet demand.

One Feeding America food bank in Detroit spent $2 million on food last month trying to meet the need in the community. Typically a food bank in Detroit would spend about one third of that amount in November, Knight said.

“Our dollars are not going as far,” Knight said. “Inflation hits all of us.”

Knight said two semi trucks filled with food were sent up last month to the eastern region of the Upper Peninsula to serve 400 families. By the time the trucks arrived, 600 families were looking for support. 

Feeding America West Michigan, the food bank that sent the trucks, sent another truck to provide food to the rest of the families, but it’s an expensive trip, Knight said. 

“The same infrastructure that Kroger, Meijer, SpartanNash, Walmart or any other grocery store has, the food banks have to have that too, which includes trucks and drivers. We operate by the same rules that their drivers do. They can only be on the road for x number of hours, trucks can only be loaded to certain weight limits and, on top of all that, the price of diesel is through the roof,” Knight said. “And we’re doing this as a community based organization.”