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COVID: Supply Chain, Price Hikes, High Demand Hurting South Bay Food Pantries

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Supply chain problems during the pandemic has caused soaring prices at the grocery store. The price hikes, and the growing demand for food is taking a toll at local food pantries.

Hunger at Home activated commercial kitchens to produce meals to feed people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Since March of 2020, the San Jose agency has produced over 7 million meals and that number continues to rise.

"The perception is that we're in 'post-pandemic' and the need is not there. But our need is growing. We're seeing our weekly distribution getting higher and higher. The demand is growing," said Hunger at Home's CEO Ewell Sterner.

Sterner expects to see the numbers of needy spike even more this week because federal jobless benefits have just run out for many who are still unemployed and can't afford food.

"There's new individuals coming. We don't see a decline in any sector," Sterner said.

At the same time, food prices are surging because of pandemic-caused supply chain problems and worker shortages.

"They're out of this world. The food prices have become so high."

And that makes it more expensive to fill food boxes with items people need and want.

"Specifically for proteins and meat. They've gone up at least 25 to 30 percent, especially recently with all the supply chain issues," said Dinari Brown, Chief Operations Officer.

It's a problem now seen by food pantries across the Bay Area.

"We were buying 50-pound bags of rice 18 months ago, for $17. Today we're paying $27," said Roberto Hernandez, who operates the Mission Food Hub in San Francisco which serves 9,000 families a week.

Hernandez said he's had to go back to corporate donors, foundations, and private people to ask for
more support to pay the increase costs.

"The food that we've been giving people has given them hope, and it's been like medicine because so many people are depressed and sad, anxiety and stress because they can't pay their rent, PG&E," Hernandez said.

Meantime, Hunger at Home is pivoting to a longer term, self-sustaining model by launching a catering business and a retraining program for people to work in the hospitality industry.

"Now as those dollars and grants aren't coming as fluently, we're going out and creating opportunities for us to continue our mission, which is food insecurity," said Mr. Sterner.

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