High gasoline prices pressure hungry even more

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The price of gasoline has a detrimental effect on all of us, but none more so than the poor and needy.

That's the word from the Food Bank for the Heartland, which, while it has headquarters in Omaha, serves food banks as far away as McCook and the Panhandle.

When gasoline approaches $4 per gallon, many are faced with the choice of putting food on the table or buying enough gasoline to get to work or obtain basic services.

When a charity like the Food Bank faces higher fuel costs, that cost directly reduces the amount of nutrition that reaches intended recipients in the 93-county, two state area it serves.

"Fuel is our number one cost in food distribution," said Food Bank President/CEO Susan Ogborn. "We're still seeing a dramatic increase in need with food distribution up 39 percent compared to a year ago. In order to meet that need, we have stepped up our distribution. Unfortunately that comes at a cost."

Nebraska's wide-open geography is a special challenge for anyone attempting to serve those in far-flung points of the state. Charity or not, the Food Bank must keep nine trucks fueled up in order to cover the approximately 300,000 miles a year it takes to make regular monthly deliveries to places like Norfolk, Valentine, Chadron, Scottsbluff and McCook in Nebraska, as well as Missouri Valley, Atlantic and Red Oak in Iowa. Fuel prices are up 18 percent compared to a year ago.

As an example of the tough choices people must make, Ogborn said, "research indicates 52 percent of client households must choose between paying for food or utilities. We should be doing better than that."

It's a serious concern. The Food Bank's fuel budget this fiscal year is $68,000, but when prices go to $4.50 a gallon, it will spend $90,000 next year -- and about 20 percent of that is spent outside the Omaha metropolitan area.

If distributions had to be reduced because of the high cost, many people would be affected. About 22,000 different people each week seek emergency food assistance in the Food Bank for the Heartland's service area, and last year, more than 9 million pounds were distributed, with that expected to grow to 11 million this year.

In fact, the Food Bank is moving to a new facility later this year because the current one is being outgrown.

Food Bank for the Heartland is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that acts as a central clearinghouse through which the food industry and community may donate surplus food to feed hungry individuals, families and children. Food is distributed to more than 360 member agencies in 77 counties in Nebraska and 16 counties in western Iowa. Annually, Food Bank for the Heartland distributes nine million pounds of product helping to feed more than 150,000 people in need in the Heartland.

So next time you fill up your tank -- if you can still afford to do that! -- think about those who may be less fortunate. Perhaps you would like to make a donation of food or funds to the McCook Pantry.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: