Hunger Action Month focuses on a high level of need
September is Hunger Action Month and, according to a local food bank director, hunger awareness is particularly important this year.
Monica Scheuer is executive director at Midwest Food Bank’s Peoria branch. She said over the past year or so, the face of the average food recipient has changed.
“Discretionary income has dwindled, to almost nothing, where they used to have that gap between paying their bills, and getting food, getting shoes for the kids clothes, you know, whatever it is,” said Scheuer. “Then they would have access to do something else with that, it might be a bigger Christmas, it might be a vacation, it might be a new car, even, you know, well, that's gone now, because of the cost of everything.”
She said a significant number of people are turning to food banks for the first time.
“So, they find themselves having to use their discretionary income to, now, pay the bills, because gas is up, clothing prices, food prices are up,” said Scheuer. “And so are their utilities, those as well are up tremendously. And so they have to now go to stand in line for food and ask.”
Despite rising costs, Scheuer said that donations are still coming in at a rate that’s comparable or above previous years.
“This is such a great community we live in,” she said. “Even in our whole region, that they’re seeing a need, and they want to do something about it.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that keeping up with the demand isn’t a challenge. Scheuer said the food bank is directly buying more food than ever before and the budget to buy food is “blown out” heading into the last quarter of 2022.
“So, we're dipping into some of the savings and figuring out how we can continue to stretch this,” she said. “So, it's going to be a challenge to sustain.”
There are a lot of factors contributing to the rising prices of food and the difficulty obtaining it. Scheuer said grocers are still struggling to keep items on the shelf, supply chain issues continue to slow distribution and a drought on the west coast of the United States is poised to make produce difficult to find.
“We’re really trying to stay on top of that,” she said. “Look for other alternatives and just be very aggressive about making sure our shelves stay full, so we can give out the food in larger quantities, because the need is so much greater.”
Hunger Action Month provides opportunities to raise awareness and address the increased need. Events like the first-ever Tri-County Hunger Walk, where participants register by donating food, should help keep the food bank’s shelves full through the end of the year.
Even when it’s not Hunger Action Month, Scheuer said the best way to keep the community fed is by donating time or money.
“For every $1 that we receive at the Midwest Food Bank, we can turn that into $30 worth of food,” she said. “And we do that because our workforce is free.”
Volunteers do everything from packing food to driving trucks to answering phones. Scheuer said 3,500 volunteers for the Midwest Food Banks give a combined 35,000 hours of their time every year.
“We're really hoping and praying that it's not like this forever,” she said. “All of us are, right? We're all hoping that we can get past this sooner rather than later. But for right now, we need everybody in the game. “