A “very alarming” demand for free groceries in Charlotte underscores a food insecurity crisis

A “very alarming” demand for free groceries in Charlotte underscores a food insecurity crisis

Photo: Lindsay Kappius. Courtesy of Loaves & Fishes

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Loaves & Fishes, a Charlotte nonprofit, provided a week’s worth of groceries to 10,850 individuals in June – one of the highest months in the organization’s 48-year history. That figure is up from 8,503 in June 2022.

Tina Postel, CEO of Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays, calls the situation a “food insecurity crisis.”

  • “Usually, when we see numbers like this it’s an indicator of how the economy is doing,” Postal tells Axios. “It’s very alarming.”

What’s happening: Summertime is always a time of high demand for Loaves & Fishes, which delivers fresh groceries to families throughout the Charlotte area. That’s partly because children are out of school, where many would normally get at least two free meals. But a number of other factors are compounding the issue locally.

Flashback: Loaves & Fishes began its grocery delivery program in summer 2020 specifically for people who tested positive for COVID-19, so that they wouldn’t have to wait in line at the food pantry with other people. The nonprofit soon opened the program up to anyone, and it has surged in popularity, Postal says.

  • It’s helpful, she adds, for anyone who works multiple jobs and can’t find time to wait in line for groceries. The high demand creates a greater need for volunteers, she says.
  • The nonprofit serves people from all backgrounds, from teachers and police officers to veterans and seniors on fixed incomes.
  • These days, Loaves & Fishes is purchasing tractor-trailer loads of food almost weekly, per the organization.

Zoom out: Several pandemic-era safety net programs will be coming to an end at roughly the same time this fall, creating a major economic squeeze for millions of families, as Axios’ Caitlin Owens reported. Student loan payments will come due again in October.

  • Also, pandemic-era funding for childcare will expire this fall too, meaning millions of families nationwide will lose access to care. Many childcare facilities will close, and others will raise their prices.

Between the lines: Almost 15% of Mecklenburg County households are considered food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to nutritious food, Axios’ Alexandria Sands recently reported.

By the numbers: So far this fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023), Loaves & Fishes has spent $727,478 on food purchases — $480,000 more than the entire prior year.

How to help: There are a number of ways the community can help.

  • Financial donations can be made via loavesandfishes.org.
  • You can donate food — especially canned fruit in juice, canned meat, low-sodium canned vegetables, canned pasta, and fresh produce. Drop off donations at the Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays warehouse at 648 Griffith Road.
  • You can volunteer to deliver groceries or meals through the nonprofit’s Friendship Trays program. Visit loavesandfishes.org/get-involved.
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