Increases in food prices are causing more and more people to rely on aid from food pantries such as the one operated by the Rochester Area Neighborhood House.

Increases in food prices are causing more and more people to rely on aid from food pantries such as the one operated by the Rochester Area Neighborhood House.

Photo provided by the Rochester Area Neighborhood House

Food support orgs overburdened as food prices continue to rise

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published November 21, 2023


METRO DETROIT — It’s no secret that the public is hurting more than before when they head to the grocery store. However, food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens are reporting that this is affecting vulnerable members of the community even more.

Brother Rob Roemer, the director of the Capuchin Services Center in Detroit, said there has been a drastic increase in those asking for help.

“We are definitely seeing an increase. We’ve seen a lot of new faces in addition to the general increase of people,” said Roemer. “We were seeing about 100 people per day; now we’re seeing about 150 at our service center, which is our food and clothing pantry.”

“We are absolutely seeing an uptick,” added Brother Gary Wegner, the executive director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. “In October 2023, at the two kitchens, we served 19,861 meals. That’s up 14% from July and a 48% increase since January. The grocery prices are killing people.”

CARES of Farmington Hills serves those in need in Farmington Hills, Farmington, Livonia, Redford Township, Southfield, Northville, Novi and West Bloomfield. They, too, are seeing an increase in need.

“At CARES, we are seeing an average of five to eight families each day, Tuesday through Thursdays. These are new families who are registering for food. This is on top of more than 650 households a month we are serving,” explained intake volunteer Nancy Prieskorn. “The need and growth is exponential. These are often people who have never had to reach out for help before and people who haven’t had to use us for several years. We are seeing all kinds of desperate situations.”

Debra Cole manages the food pantry for the Rochester Area Neighborhood House. She said that their numbers are up and have been increasing since the COVID-19 lockdown ended.

“We are very much seeing an increase in requests for aid,” said Cole. “We are probably seeing an increase of 15 to 20 more families per month over last year. After things opened up after COVID, we started seeing more people. The government also lessened the amount they were getting through SNAP. The amount was brought back down to pre-COVID levels, and a lot of people weren’t ready for that.”

Prieskorn said part of this stems from support many were receiving during COVID-19 no longer being available.

“I think people are finding that food prices are rising and that government help is decreasing. I think it’s a combination of those two things,” she said. “The food prices are probably an aftermath of COVID and the disruption it caused in society. We’re all trying to find a new equilibrium and, in my opinion, people aren’t finding a balance of how to divert resources to where it’s needed.”

The increase of food prices, largely caused by inflation in the United States economy, is credited as the primary cause of these difficulties by many trying to help.

“I think a big part of the increase is inflation,” said Roemer. “The price of food is quite high. When I first came here in 2021, during COVID, people were receiving stimulus checks, and now those resources are gone.”

Cole said that difficulties in getting a well-paying job also are certainly a factor.

“A lot of families who were doing all right are now recertifying themselves with us to get food once again,” she said. “People are saying they are having a hard time getting a job. Some people aren’t used to getting a job after COVID or they have family members moving in or kids moving back in because they can’t find a job.”

This means that the increase in service requests at most of these organizations is not coming from those living on the streets but those who are failing to make ends meet.

“At one of our kitchens, we get more homeless people, so the economy doesn’t always directly affect them, since they are often outside the mainstream economy,” said Wegner. “However, at the other, we serve more of the working poor, single mothers and families, and they are trying to find ways to stretch their dollar.”

“We’re seeing young people. We’re seeing senior citizens. We’re seeing homeless people or people living out of their cars,” added Prieskorn. “It’s anything and everyone. People are in need.”

Not having to spend income on food can be immensely helpful, since it means that money can be redirected to expenses where no help is available.

“We try to have people come and get groceries from us so they have money for other things,” said Cole. “If they can get two weeks of groceries, they can use that money for electric bills or gas bills and so forth. We also have a Clothes Closet, where they can get free clothing. Freeing up that money for other expenses can do a lot.”

Organizations across metro Detroit are asking for continued or increased support from those who can afford to give.

“There are a number of organizations like CARES to contribute to,” said Prieskorn. “Everyone is asking for money, food and volunteers. We also need to talk to our legislators and encourage them to dedicate more money to help those in need of food assistance.”

Some organizations are starting new initiatives to try to help more people than before as well.

“We also have worked this past year with the Felician Sisters and their new Deo Gratias Ministry at Six Mile Road and Kelly Road,” said Wegner. “They offer to-go meals three days a week.”

“There’s lots of resources out there. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Check at local clubs or churches or other organizations for resources like food pantries or clothes closets,” added Roemer. “Those who wish to help can donate nonperishable food and clothing. We accept everything and give everything away; we don’t sell anything for a profit. A lot of organizations are out there just like that. Hygiene items are often also something groups are in desperate need for.”

Prieskorn said the need is dire and that many organizations, including CARES, are being stretched very thin.

“It’s very frustrating. People are calling various agencies and looking for help,” she said. “Everyone is maxed out in their resources. People need to have perseverance. It’s hard to do if you are worrying about feeding a child or finding a place to stay that night.”