Rising food prices mean difficult choices for hungry Montanans

Jun 23, 2014 5:20 PM by Dennis Bragg – KPAX News

MISSOULA- If you’re struggling with higher food prices this year, imagine what it’s like to be on a very limited budget – or responsible for feeding thousands of people across Montana.

But managers of the Montana Food Bank Network say they’re managing to get by with buying in bulk, coupled with the creativity of the clients who need their help.

Any trip to the store can result in “sticker shock” now days, with post-recession prices climbing rapidly in recent weeks, especially for staples.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says nationally produce prices are up over 3%, while meat, poultry, fish and eggs are up nearly 8% in the latest report.

The Montana Food Bank Network is helping to offset some of the impacts because it can buy in bulk through the Feeding America Networks. The difference is tracked using a 50-pound box of “shelf stable” items, enough to feed a family for four-to-five days.

“We looked at pricing that through our network was about $35 for that whole box of food. A lot of food,” explains Gayle Gifford, CEO of the Montana Food Bank Network.

“Versus if you went to a big box store or a local grocery store it was ranging anywhere from $55 to-$85 for that same box. That kind of gives you an idea the benefits of our network work, and how inexpensive. When we’re buying truckloads obviously it’s a lot cheaper.”

During her appearance on MTN’s Face the State over the weekend, Gifford said the bigger challenge continues to be how the hungry are coping with rising prices.

She says since the 1980s “shelf stable”, or processed foods have gone down about 10-to-30%. But more nutritious, fresh food prices have gone up about 40%.

Gifford pointed out that means individuals and families are struggling to have enough good foods match their SNAP allocations and get through an entire month. That puts more pressure on the smaller food banks and pantries.

“When you’re looking at not only what we have to purchase, being able to get bulk amounts we can certainly maximize our deductions that way. But when you’re getting right down into the family they have limited resources.”

“And they have the choice between buying a pound of fresh produce or vegetables or fruit, versus buying a pound of Raman noodles you’re talking about quantity versus quality. And a lot of times that’s a tough decision to make,” Gifford added.

She says donations remain a critical part of feeding Montana’s hungry with the rising prices.