Photo: Eastern Christian elementary students donate to Star of Hope Ministries annual Thanksgiving Box of Love outreach.
By Rebecca Eshuis
The price of groceries has increased by an average 13.1 percent over the past year, with some product categories, such as eggs, nearly tripling, according to Danielle Wiener-Bronner from CNN Business. Prices are not yet projected to decrease. Underprivileged communities have been especially impacted, and local food pantries are learning to adapt to this new economic environment.
This increasing need is directly reflected in the sheer number of people who have visited food pantries. Phil Beverly, executive director at New Hope Community Ministries says that in August, “we served just over 500 people in one month, which is the single largest amount of people that we’ve ever served in a month at our food pantry.” He adds that this number exceeds the amount of food they distributed in the starting months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen a really strong rise in [the] need for emergency food. This year, [the need] has been growing steadily since the spring,” he adds.
Rising food prices are not a standalone problem. Spending greater amounts of money on food creates issues in other areas of life, as well. As families increase food spending, less money is left over to spend on other necessities, such as bills, clothes, and toiletries, thus forcing families to choose between everyday essentials. Food pantries work to lighten this burden by providing for one of those needs.
Matthew Andersen, executive director of Star of Hope Ministries, says, “When you’re helping [the families] with this most basic need of food, it opens up the opportunity for them to buy their kid a birthday present or to get them the right clothes that they need. Inflation has made the need that much greater for so many families that are living right at the poverty level.”
Thomas Henion, executive director at Madison Avenue Crossroads Community Ministries has also seen this change. For many years, the organization has primarily served families with children, particularly grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. In the face of this food crisis, they have started serving single men and women – something they have not done since the start of the pandemic.
Despite increasing needs, the future of service for these pantries is uncertain. Though increased food prices disproportionately impact poorer communities, their impact can be felt in communities across the board. Combined with the continued rise of prices in other areas, people are becoming less able to make material or financial donations to food pantries, Andersen says. He anticipates that food distribution will become more difficult should prices continue to increase, as families will have to work harder to make their own ends meet before providing for others.
Madison Avenue Ministries’ focus on serving homes with children may impact how they serve single men and women, adds Henion. He suggests that, while Madison Avenue Ministries will continue to serve them, they may have to encourage people to visit other food pantries or soup kitchens as resources dwindle.
Beverly, however, anticipates that in the face of greater need, local communities will offer greater resources. He says, “Using the past couple years as an example, when the need has increased dramatically like it did in 2020, we’ve seen a really strong support base to come alongside us and get us the food we need… so I don’t anticipate that we wouldn’t be able to get enough food… because there’s just a lot of people around that believe in what we’re doing.”
Beverly’s main concern lies in a greater need for volunteers and staff to manage the larger numbers of people attending the food pantry. He believes that Christians have a biblical mandate to care for the widows and the orphans and are called to care for those who are under-resourced. Beverly urges people to get involved with local pantries, whether it be through volunteering, donating, praying, or spreading awareness about the rising need for food. Andersen, similarly, values recognizing a person’s gifting and using it to serve our neighbors. He stresses the importance of serving in such a way that affirms the dignity of individuals in need. Henion, too, emphasizes the value of getting involved. “Sometimes if we read it or see it, it doesn’t mean as much as if we come and stop and visit,” he says.
Rebecca Eshuis is a student at Eastern Christian High School in North Haledon.
Editor’s note: For information on volunteering or financially supporting these ministries, please visit their websites: