This Saturday, my husband and I will load up our car with Thanksgiving meal kits for families in the DMV area as part of our church’s outreach. We are honored to take one worry off the table of working families, older citizens, and single parents: With grocery prices so high, how will they feed their families this Thanksgiving?
For the second year in a row, out-of-control higher gas, food, and heating oil bills have left families up and down the income scale with fewer resources to enjoy a good Thanksgiving meal. This year, this hardship is compounded by inflation’s toll on the charitable giving sector.
We can be thankful that inflation appears to be slowing, but let’s not forget how outrageously high prices are now compared to 2020 and prior. The consumer price index rose 7.7% in October from one year ago, coming in below 8% for the first time in months. Food prices rose more slowly, but grocery bills are still 12.4% higher than one year ago and 2021 prices were 5.3% higher than in 2020. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.74 according to AAA — up from $3.43 one year ago and far above the $2.10 average in 2020.
Cold winter weather means higher heating costs. Fuel oil is currently up 68.5% from last year. The Energy Department is bracing households for a surge in home heating costs: 28% on natural gas, 27% for heating oil, and 10% for electricity.
Inflation on food, gasoline, and home heating is incredibly important to most people. These expenses are necessities, not discretionary. The poor and those living on fixed incomes are disproportionately punished by rising prices because they spend proportionately more of their income on food and gas costs.
But it is not just the poor who are being hurt. In recent pre-election polling, nearly double the number of households with annual household incomes of $150,000 to $200,000 said rising prices are creating major financial strains for them (26%) up from this March.
Food pantries across the country don’t need pollsters to confirm that inflation is straining households across tax brackets. The cars pulling up for donations tell the tale of rising demand. Nearly two out of three (60%) food banks reported an increase in demand for emergency food assistance in August compared to the previous month, according to a Feeding America food bank pulse survey. An Idaho food bank calculates that because of inflation, they save families an average of $500 to $600 a month up from $300. Concerningly, families that stopped coming to the food bank for help in the past are back again.
Demand for help is up, but aid organizations face the same crushing inflation making it hard to keep up the supply, especially as donations have fallen. Food banks contend with the same rising food and gasoline prices households do, which drives up the costs to deliver food, goods, and services to the needy. Washington’s solution to rising food prices has been to increase federal spending on feeding programs. More cash is a temporary solution to inflation which is proving to be a long-term problem. Furthermore, excessive stimulus largely from the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan triggered the inflation we are battling today.
Washington should stand down on any more reckless spending. It’s time for American generosity to stand up this holiday season to meet the rising needs. Prices for turkey and other poultry are up 17%, and inflation on side dishes has soared single to double digits. Donations of birds and meal kits from local grocers, corporate partners, community groups, churches, and individuals are all the more critical to putting Thanksgiving dinner on tables this year.
We may be unthankful for inflation and the toll it takes on our quality of life, but by coming together we can ensure no family goes hungry this Thanksgiving.