A global food crisis is hitting the pocketbooks of those in the United States, including U.S. service members.
Jeremy Hester, the Executive Director for the Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA Food Pantry, says they have seen an increase of 15% of service members coming to the pantry.
“Right now we're seeing an uptick in usage,” Hester told Up & Coming Weekly. “We're also seeing kind of a downturn in donations.”
The pantry typically receives calls from companies like Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods on random days when their meat is about to expire. The pantry will accept this frozen meat and then do a massive giveaway to families on post. However, the last time they received these donations was over two months ago.
“We're not getting those phone calls anymore,” Hester said. “So there's this little bit of fear of just the food insecurity stuff, the scarcity that everyone's talking about and supply chains and things like that. So it makes us worry a little bit as to what six months will bring, a year will bring as far as us being able to supply [assistance to those in need].”
Individual donations have also gone down in the last three months.
“I would say in 2021, like clockwork, every couple of hours people would come in. Whether it's a small bag of food or they're bringing in boxes of stuff that they bought for us, or they're bringing in a couple of items that they just have extra. That has slowed down quite a bit as well,” Hester said.
This comes as inflation reached 9.1 percent in June, the largest 12-month increase in more than forty years. Food prices increased by 1%, with certain products seeing sharper increases, like margarine (6.8%), flour and prepared flour mixes (5.3%), butter (4.8%), ice cream (4%), breakfast cereals (2.5%), canned vegetables (2.1%), salad dressing (3.3%), and chicken (1.7%).
The food pantry is working to continue to keep the pantry stocked. One way is taking donations from the Commissary's Feds Feed Families program. Last week, the Commissary donated 70 bags of food.
Another way of creating more food is using the Victory Garden, just a few blocks north of the pantry. The Fort Bragg Victory Garden provides on-post residents a way to plant and grow nutritious produce in a social atmosphere. Two of the plots are reserved for the pantry.
“We're really recruiting volunteers to help us with the gardening because we want to prove that we can keep those gardens going,” Hester said. “We're getting some of those vegetables and things and bringing them to the pantry. And we're taking our group out there a couple of times. If we can keep that going and not lose a beat and not let it grow out, then I think there's an opportunity for us. Do more plots and just get more people involved. Right now we're getting a good amount of stuff out of there. But if we had 100 plots, it can really help.”
Plans to increase the food pantry are underway with a mobile food van that delivers food to Linden Oaks, a Corvias community located away from the military installation. There are also plans to move the pantry itself away from the small building it's currently in and somewhere more centrally located and filled with more freezers and fridges.
“We're the only food pantry on Fort Bragg and we have the potential to expand,” Hester said. A new, more central location that would be more conducive for a food pantry could potentially help more families, he said.
“I'm pushing now for people to think they have the capacity to reach out through donations or monetary donations to make sure that we can continue this on for the next couple of years at least.”
Currently, the most requested items for the food pantry are canned fruit, healthy cereal and bagged/canned beans. Donations of food, personal hygiene items and baby items such as formula or diapers can also be donated. The pantry is located on the north end of Fort Bragg at 2411 Rodney Trail #2 from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for donations.
The U.S. Army Public Health Center and U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service released a survey last year that found that nearly 33% of more than 5,600 respondents at an unidentified Army installation were considered marginally food insecure, meaning they faced food hardship or had difficulties ensuring their food budget stretched through the end of the month.
Blue Star Families’ annual national member survey found that 14% of almost 4,500 enlisted active-duty family respondents reported low or very low food security in 2020. This can be compared to 10.5% of all U.S. households.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies and advocacy group Military Family Advisory Network both released studies this year that found structural parts of military life, such as high rates of spouse unemployment and moving and child care shortages, are driving the growing rate of food insecurity among active duty military families.
A new report from the Defense Department reviewing food insecurity in the U.S. military is due by Oct. 1.
In the meantime, University of North Carolina graduate students are doing a study on food insecurity at the Fort Bragg food pantry.
“They've done voluntary interviews with some of our families and they're really doing a good job there. They're going out talking to food banks. They're going out talking to lots of different organizations on post and off. And they're putting together a kind of an action plan,” Hester said. “How can we connect more? How can we help this organization that can help our food pantry?”
The Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA offers other services outside the food pantry to help military families. Those services include financial planning classes and family support services that include child care,
mentoring and infant support.
For more information about the Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA, go to their website, www.asymca.org/what-we-do-fort-bragg, or their Facebook page to learn more about special food giveaways.
The food pantry is open every Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and every second Saturday, excluding holidays.
Service members and their families do need to register and can only do one pick-up a month. Registrants can choose their preferred date for pick-up on the monthly online registration form, which can be found on their website.