Food pantries: Inflation pushing Utah family budgets to the breaking point

Jul 5, 2022, 6:15 PM | Updated: 7:46 pm

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — This summer is proving to be extra difficult for Utah families because of record high gas prices and 40-year high inflation, according to those who provide food assistance.

“Inflation has just shown up in our statistics,” said Al Switzler, co-founder of Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry.

Between its two Utah County locations in American Fork and Spanish Fork, Tabitha’s Way is serving an extra 300 families a month compared to the beginning of the year.

“We help people through tough times,” Switzler said. “Well, tough times nowadays also includes inflation.”

Switzler says, since January, they’ve seen a 29% increase in the number of individuals they’re helping and that most of that increase happened in just the last three months.

“The number of new people coming is up 53%,” he said. “So, people are staying longer and more people are coming.”

The two locations served nearly 7,700 individuals in June. Switzler said the pantries are seeing more people from out of the area stop by for help with food.

“Everything is just adding up really, really quickly, and it’s just making things a lot more challenging than it typically is,” said Pleasant Grove resident Heather Crawford. “Gas is out of control. Food is out of control.”

Crawford, a mother of three, said inflation has hit all aspects of her family’s budget and that the food assistance is very helpful.

“Gas is a huge one,” Crawford said. “It has killed us.”

The Utah Food Bank said the huge spike in demand seen during the pandemic hasn’t gone away.

“There really hasn’t been a decrease in the need,” said Utah Food Bank President and CEO Ginette Bott. “There has not been what we had hoped to see as kind of a recovery process.”

Before the pandemic, the Utah Food Bank distributed around 43 million pounds of food a year. That figure jumped to more than 70 million pounds during the pandemic, and ended at just over 69 million pounds of food distributed during the fiscal year that ended last month.

“There are so many families who are really struggling,” Bott said.

Bott said summer can already be a difficult time for families because of the absence of school meals and the cost of childcare. This summer is even more difficult because of the rise in prices for housing, food and gas.

“One of those items would be a challenge; all of them added together is a disaster,” she said.

Bott said the food bank is also facing higher costs to transport food around the state because of gas prices.

People can help the Utah Food Bank by donating time, food or money. Bott said the monetary donations can go a long way in helping with operating costs and with buying discounted bulk food.

The Murray Children’s Pantry said it is also seeing a spike in demand and is on pace to exceed the 52,000 meals distributed last year. Through June, the pantry has already given out 28,000 meals, according to pantry president Jim Brass.

Brass said the pantry is running out of items it’s never run out of before — like canned stews and soups — and that they welcome donations.

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Food pantries: Inflation pushing Utah family budgets to the breaking point