Consumer inflation in the United States hit a 40-year high last month and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for food at home – grocery store purchases – "increased 10.8 percent, the largest 12-month percentage increase since the period ending November 1980," between April 2021 and April 2022.
Rising food prices and inflation have increased demand on several local food pantries and food assistance programs, all of which are seeking more donations, particularly of certain in-demand items.
The local Salvation Army is facing a quickly-depleting stockpile of food as a result of greatly-increased demand.
U.S. Department of Agriculture research shows that food pantry use increased to 6.7% of all U.S. households in 2020, up from from 4.4% in 2019.
The same study shows that among households with "very low food security," 45.5% reported using a food pantry.
Wade Totty, director of Liberty Baptist Association, said a rise in demand at his organization's food bank has been matched by an increase in giving from donors.
"I can tell you, as far as gifts, those have stayed the same and maybe even increased. That's a good thing for us. I think we do see higher traffic -- people can't afford to put enough food on the table," Totty said.
"We've had a lot of first timers coming in. We have locations in El Dorado and Camden and have seen new folks in both places," he continued.
Liberty Baptist Association's pantry opens every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. inside Southside Baptist Church's Learning Center. Totty said his organization accepts both monetary and food donations.
"We like to have both (food and money) and appreciate it when organizations and individuals give -- we always use it. Money helps us purchase things like meat, things that people don't give as much. We're having a hard time getting meat through the Arkansas Food Bank and have been able to make purchases locally," he said.
Currently, the organization is in need of peanut butter and crackers and canned goods as food donations.
"We could always use more volunteers, too," Totty said.
He added that donations help keep the Liberty Baptist Association's food pantry running.
"We just appreciate the support we receive from churches and individuals. Without them we couldn't feed the people we feed every week," he said.
For more information, Liberty Baptist Association can be reached at 870-862-3063. Visitors to its food pantry need to fill out a form and need an ID and proof of income.
Marsha Long at Interfaith Help Services in El Dorado said the organization is increasingly relying on orders from the Arkansas Food Bank and could use donations of nutritious foods to help with the ever-rising demand.
"We're definitely seeing more people. We order from the Arkansas Food Bank. We order weeks before and never know what we'll get," Long said.
Long said Interfaith's pantry could particularly use staple items such as rice and beans, which they've recently tried to order but did not receive.
"You can make a meal from rice and beans," she said.
Those in need of supplementary food items can visit Interfaith once a month to pick up a bag of food. The agency is open from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday.
Long said those who wish to get food from the organization's pantry just need to bring identification and fill out a form. The agency also offers a utility assistance program.
For more information, Interfaith Help Services can be reached at 870-862-2294.
Major David Robinson said the Salvation Army in El Dorado has also been contending with increasing demand on its food assistance programs. The organization, Robinson said, could particularly use any donations of canned goods.
"Our food box numbers have exploded with the food issues and food insecurities. A year ago, we were (giving) about 100 food boxes per month; now we're doing about 1,200. Our supplies are going quickly, so any help we can get with that would be wonderful," Robinson said.
In a press release issued by the organization on Wednesday, Robinson said those numbers further increased in May.
"In May 2021, we provided 127 food boxes. In May 2022, we provided 1,351 food boxes – a more than 10(-times) increase. We are very concerned our pantry will soon be depleted," Robinson states in the release.
The local Salvation Army has also seen dramatic increases in demand for its cafeteria -- the Murphy Red Shield Diner -- which serves meals twice daily each weekday and one meal on Saturday and Sunday.
"We went up from 2,400 meals a year ago in April to 5,250 this last April, so almost double," Robinson said.
The press release gave May numbers: 5,671 meals provided in May 2022 versus 2,512 in May 2021.
Robinson said the organization needs food donations including peanut butter, one-pound bags of beans, canned items, canned meats, vegetables and fruits and bags of rice.
The organization can also use monetary donations he said, to help with its utility assistance programs and with its grocery bill, which has increased from approximately $500-per-week to $1,500-per-week as demand and prices have increased. Food drives held on the Salvation Army's behalf by area organizations and churches are also welcome, Robinson said.
Donations often drop off during summer months, Robinson said, but the ever-increasing demand has the Salvation Army reaching out to the community for assistance.
"Families are working as hard as they can to make ends meet, but towards the middle of the month, their resources run out and they turn to The Salvation Army for help. The thought of turning anyone away who is hungry keeps me up at night -- we must find a solution," stated Robinson.
"It has been a privilege for The Salvation Army to serve in this way, and we are so grateful for those who have supported our ministry, and for our staff and committed volunteers who help make these programs possible. However, we need additional support to keep up with the need," Robinson added.