Tarrant County

Local Food Bank Navigates Rising Food & Fuel Costs to Meet Demand

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With rising food and fuel costs, the executive director at a North Texas food bank says his organization has to “strategically” distribute food for the time being.

David Emerson is the executive director of Midwest Food Bank, which serves about 100 agencies in North Texas and parts of Oklahoma. Food from their Bedford warehouse goes to places including food pantries and homeless centers.

Most of the food is donated by corporate partners and produce companies, but Emerson said some of it is paid for by them directly.

“Our warehouse doesn’t have near as much frozen meat in it as normal. So, we have kind of had to make sure we spread it out,” Emerson said. “They’re [agencies] still getting the same amount. They may not be able to get as much meat and so, we have to give them a different type of product. So, they might get more soup as it relates to that. Or more milk, something along those lines.”

Inflation eased slightly in April after months of relentless increases but remained near a four-decade high, according to a report Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Labor. Consumer prices jumped 8.3% last month from a year ago, which was below the 8.5% year-over-year surge in March - the highest since 1981. On a monthly basis, prices rose 0.3% from March to April, the smallest rise in eight months.

In April, a fallback in gas prices helped slow overall inflation. According to AAA, the national average prices for a gallon of gas fell to as low as $4.10 in April after having spiked to $4.32 in March. Since then, prices have surged to a record $4.40 a gallon.

“Fuel costs for our trucks that we’re running up and down the road has certainly doubled,” Emerson said. “What we budgeted at the beginning of the year for the year, we have already hit that number.”

His nonprofit relies heavily on volunteers, like Rich Stoller who joined in 2017 and also serves as a board member. His volunteer work includes visiting the agencies they serve and helping at the warehouse about seven or eight times a month, he said.

“I’m probably using 25 to 30 gallons a month to do my work with the Midwest Food Bank,” he said. “That’s gone from $120 to $200, maybe a little more than that.”

Even with rising gas prices, he said he had no plans to stop volunteering any time soon. The organization has experienced a rise in demand lately, he said.

“It makes you really aware of how hard it’s got to be for people who live on the margin. [In the] year or two years in the way things have gone, it’s just got to be crunching them like crazy,” he said. “It makes the opportunity more meaningful.”

Likewise, Phillip Gonzalez with Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County described their volunteers as the “backbone” of their organization. On average, they serve about 6,400 people throughout Tarrant County with the help of about 5,200 volunteers who drive their own cars to make meal deliveries.

Gonzalez said they have not lost any volunteers due to rising fuel costs.

“These people continue to volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts, out of their own pockets to fill their gas tanks up and still deliver,” he said. “They know that without them, a lot of these people wouldn’t eat.”

Gonzalez said for them, food costs do not have as large of an impact due to donations.

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