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Inflation strains Indianapolis food bank

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — At Gleaners’ sprawling warehouse near the Indianapolis International Airport, volunteers who deliver and pack food have their work cut out for them.

“Inflation is certainly hurting consumers, and its driving prices up, and, for low-income people, it is forcing more and more people to go to food pantries for food assistance,” said Joe Slater, chief operations officer for Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.

Gleaners usually gets hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat donations from grocery chains each month. “The meat that you see that doesn’t get sold by the best-by date can be frozen and actually distributed for a very long period of time,” Slater said.

Because of a labor shortage, the surplus meat isn’t plentiful, so Gleaners got creative and purchased a clean room certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The room allows workers to repackage meat that may have been accidentality packaged in a certain way, so it’s in a size suitable enough to be donated.

“It’s supposed to be in quarter-inch chunks. Some machine didn’t get recalibrated, and it was in three-quarter-inch chunks,” Slater said.

Gleaners has to purchase a good amount of dry foods such as spaghetti and peanut butter, and the cost of those foods is soaring.

“We purchase around $25 million of food every year, and if you say we have between a 10% and 20% increase in those prices, our budget gets stretched anywhere from $2.5 (million) to $5 million a year,” Slater said.

Gleaners distributes its collected food to smaller pantries, but also stocks some of that food at a retail store it runs. That food is given to needy families free of charge.

“If a household has been hit with several hundred dollars in cost increases, at some point it just doesn’t all come together, and they are going to need some supplemental food resources and that’s why we’re here,” Slater said.

In December 2021, Congress declined to expand the child tax credit created during the coronavirus pandemic, and many families that qualified stopped receiving their checks earlier this year. Slater said the loss of those checks is fueling more demand from Gleaners.