WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Along with the bread, meat and vegetables, there's always a lot of love at food banks.
"This is my community," said Sara Diaz, a volunteer at Growing Home, a food pantry that serves 2000 families in a mostly Latino population in a suburb of Denver.
Their average client makes about $15,000 a year, working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
"Yesterday, a man said to me, ‘Is it going to be open tomorrow?’ and I said 'Yes,' and he said, 'Because I went to the store and I couldn’t buy bread,'" Diaz said. "You must have a heart of stone if all this doesn’t hurt you."
"Families are having to make extraordinarily hard decisions," said Karen Fox Elwell, president and CEO of Growing Home.
Right now, they’re seeing about five to seven times the amount of families that needed services than they did before the pandemic. Across the country, it's a similar story.
The need has increased 15% since the pandemic, but what’s impacting these shelves and food banks coast to coast is beyond the pandemic— it’s inflation.
"It is significantly driving up our costs, both on the food side, as well as just operationally overall," said Elwell said.
It may come as a surprise but food banks buy the majority of their food. Nonprofits are used to operating on shoestring budgets but inflation is pushing them and their suppliers, like Food Bank of the Rockies, to the brink.
"Pre COVID, we're sending out $300,000 every month on food. Now, it's almost a million dollars a month," said Erin Pulling, president and CEO of Food Bank of the Rockies.
Grocery bills, overall, increased 8.6% in February, which was the biggest jump since April 1981.
"Beef prices are up 27% over one year ago, canned fruit up 30%. Our freight costs are up 60% and that impacts the food that we're purchasing as well as the food that's getting donated," said Pulling.
"Many families are struggling in many different ways, and you can't always tell who really is in those situations," said Elwell.
Organizations like Growing Home need all the help they can get – through donations and volunteers – to continue to help as many people as possible, because along with heart they have grit, and are determined to carry on their mission.
"This isn’t going to last forever and I know better days are coming," said Diaz.