Triple whammy hits Regional Food Bank

By TED WADDELL
Posted 3/23/22

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY AND BEYOND — Imagine you’re a young man with a wife and a couple of kids to support, and your work car broke down.

You’re suddenly faced with some hard …

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Triple whammy hits Regional Food Bank

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY AND BEYOND — Imagine you’re a young man with a wife and a couple of kids to support, and your work car broke down.

You’re suddenly faced with some hard choices due to the cost of repairs and the price of everything else under the sun, including food and gas.

Reluctant to ask for help, the upstate resident took on a second job, but without a car, he rides his bike to work during the winter months, 25 miles each way through freezing rain, icy sleet and falling snow.

“He tried to do everything he could so not to ask for help, but finally came to us and asked for food assistance,” said Molly Nicol, chief executive officer of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. “I can’t think how much grit and determination it took for him to do everything he can do to provide for his family.”

A bit closer to home, a former victim of domestic violence is raising three boys on the autism spectrum—one of whom is on a plant-based diet—without any help from her family.

The Monticello Community Action Outreach Center stepped in to provide food from the Food Bank, a real lifesaver for this struggling single mom with three hungry kids.

“The food we receive from the food bank helps this client battle food insecurity while helping her sons maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle,” said Bryan Warren, care manager for Community Action Sullivan County Outreach, noting that the food is distributed through their monthly food pantry.

But feeding the hungry just  got a lot more expensive, as the food bank recently got hit with what Nicol called a “triple whammy.” With the inflation rate soaring to 7.9 percent, the cost of fuel skyrocketing and the price of food at the neighborhood grocery store going through the roof, it’s getting extremely difficult to maintain their critical mission of providing food assistance to folks in an area that encompasses 40 percent of the state, spread over 23 counties.

“The number of people seeking food assistance is rising,” she said. “Hard-working folks whose income just covered their expenses are really feeling the pinch, no safety net, no disposable income. These are the choices people are facing, and what’s driving them to the charitable food assistance programs.”

The Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless, located at 9 Monticello St. in Monticello, is part of the Food Bank’s distribution network, and in Nicol’s words, “These folks are really out there in the field, seeing people coming to them, seeing a new population of people; they are employed but their income and expenditures are  pretty much evenly matched every month.”

So in a lot of cases, it’s either put gas in the car or food on the table. Not a great choice, but a stark reality.

Nicol noted that the triple-pronged ripple effect created a situation in which “many more new people are coming to us asking for help for food… it’s also the supply chain. When you go to the grocery store, you’ll see that there are products that just don’t exist anymore… and in the last couple of months, the cost of fuel went ‘boom, boom,’... there’s increased need, reduced supply and increased costs.”

The Regional Food Bank maintains a fleet of 25 vehicles, ranging from tractor-trailers to sprinter vans, all tasked with the distribution of food to those in need.

According to Nicol, last year the fleet traveled almost 500,000 miles, but the cost of fuel keeps going up, and up. And up.

In December 2021 diesel cost $3.30, while a month later the pump price was a sticker-shocking $5.36.

“We are spending $5,000 more per month on fuel,” said the food bank’s CEO.

Nicol was at pains to point out that the food bank “is not going out of business… we’ll do whatever it takes... not to say the sky is falling, but it’s really a crunch situation.”

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