Rainier Valley Food Bank sees surge in demand due to rising food prices

Rising prices at the grocery store are not just affecting the families shopping there—it is also impacting local food banks, which are straining under the costs and facing even greater demand for food.

Deliveries were flying out the door of the Rainier Valley Food Bank on Saturday, as volunteer drivers lined up to pick up grocery bags for those in need.

“I like to be around people that are always helping, because I was raised like that,” said Lawrence Odom, a longtime food bank volunteer.

Lawrence said working at the food bank is good for the soul. He said in tough times, acts of service keep him going.

“Mostly I like to be around people and see people do good and try to make it in this world, because the world isn’t what it used to be,” said Lawrence.

For many, times have gotten tougher financially.

“The need has been incredible,” said Otis Pimpleton, another volunteer.

Pimpleton said even before COVID, the need was increasing.

“Everybody needs food now, and you know, we are really busy trying to get it to them,” said Otis. “Even before COVID and all this stuff, the need was growing every year.”

Otis said rising prices have also taken a bite out of people’s budgets.

The food bank cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which recently reported a 9-16% spike in food costs. Workers at the food bank say it affects everyone across all income levels, and it has caused a surge in demand for Rainier Valley Food Bank.

“Inflation definitely really does play a role,” said Otis.

“One of the things that is exasperating is the inflation rate, but also when the stimulus checks ran out—folks that maybe could get by without coming to the food bank, found that they needed to come to the food bank,” said Gloria Hatcher –Mays, Executive Director for Rainier Valley Food Bank.

The food bank reports an increase in customer visits year over year in 2022. During the soft re-open to ‘in-person shopping,’ where customers pick their own items, around 180 people showed up, with only 20 invites going out.

The food bank estimates that 500 to 600 could show up per day when ‘shopping days’ fully reopen.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Higher food prices could cause food banks to scale back services provided to people in need

“We view our service as one that helps a monthly budget stabilize, that you can use the food bank for a safety valve for your expenses every month.” said Gloria.

Otis said the food bank has also gotten creative in working around rising food prices in its own budget.

“There is a bunch of stuff I like to order that is just astronomically priced. We are still getting a lot of good food here, but we have to be selective when we buy it, getting it when it’s in season, and stuff like that ,” Otis said.

“We moved from a tiny location to this nice big location,” said Gloria. “It is expensive, and we are looking to do some further refinements here, so we can expand our programming.”

Gloria hopes to expand services in the future.

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“We are definitely looking to see if the community will continue to support our growth here,” said Gloria. “It’s very important to us. The work we do is very important to the community. So, I just want to emphasize how lucky we are to have found this place and how much we are hopeful the community will continue to support.”

The food bank also had free showers on site Saturday for those in need.

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