Dear friend of Loaves and Fishes:
High gas prices. Rising food prices. Fears of a recession. As the pandemic recedes, economic worries are becoming the preoccupation of the summer.
Many elected officials and economic analysts expected the U.S. economy to snap back to its former robust state as the country opened up again following pandemic shutdowns. And for a while, that seemed to be happening. But we soon realized that COVID had changed our economy and the workforce. And many of us know that economic recoveries are not even — that not all workers and communities do well even when politicians and pundits declare it to be strong.
Those of us who have a paid or volunteer position with Loaves and Fishes have, in a way, a front-line view of the economy. We see the national economy’s everyday performance in how people who are homeless or work in service-oriented jobs fare during an economic downturn or upturn. And we know that a rising economy doesn’t always lift all boats and that a sinking economy has its first impacts on people who can afford it the least — those who are in the most precarious financial situations.
The Loaves and Fishes program, like all individuals, families and businesses, is affected by all of this — inflation, fears of a shaky economic recovery, and even continued concern over the spread of COVID. Don’t be alarmed — the program is still strong and is operating normally. My point is that it’s in times exactly like this that Loaves and Fishes — and your support of it — is needed.
Denize Stanton-Williams, Loaves and Fishes’ Director of Operations, reports that numbers of people coming to Loaves and Fishes for its weekend and federal holiday food distributions have recently increased. She says she has seen more regular guests and newcomers. Claudia Pabo, one of my fellow management board members and a regular volunteer, observed that in early May, it was like a switch that had been flipped when suddenly more people started coming to pick up food.
High inflation affects all of us, and nobody likes having to spend more on anything, especially things we can’t live without, like food or housing. Yet for people who live on the streets or who live paycheck to paycheck, getting all the food and nutrition they need these days is even harder. For people and families living on a fixed income, the monthly payments don’t go as far as they once did. Many families are having to make difficult choices, such as paying for rent or health care instead of buying food. Denize says she used to see higher numbers of guests at Loaves and Fishes at the end of each month, when funds were running out for many families. Now they are running out of money earlier in the month and having to rely on programs like ours for free assistance.
Even the food that Loaves and Fishes purchases — much of it at wholesale prices — has gotten more expensive. Like people at home, the program is having to find ways to be creative with meals.
Many of us have some wiggle room in our budgets and can cut back on some luxuries, like eating out or going to the movies. But many individuals and families that were barely getting by before inflation increased the cost of living are finding it even harder to cover the basics, like food. Loaves and Fishes is present for them as it has been for many people over the decades, providing prepared meals and bags of groceries that people can take home.
A survey released recently by the Capital Area Food Bank (where Loaves and Fishes purchases food for the grocery bags it gives out) showed that one in three people in the Washington, D.C., region didn’t know where their next meal was coming from at some point in the previous year. The report also found that households with children were twice as likely to experience food insecurity, compared to households without children.
Other groups are addressing poverty and related issues like hunger in other ways. The Poor People’s Campaign, led by prominent pastor William J. Barber II, held a march with thousands of people in D.C. on the National Mall in June.
Producing a research report or marching in D.C. are popular ways to raise the importance of an issue and get the attention of Congress and the administration, and often they are effective. Loaves and Fishes operates in a different way. It plays a quiet, steady role of providing food directly to people in need. Decade in and decade out, during both good and bad economic times, and despite health-related shutdowns, the program has filled the hunger gap on weekends and federal holidays with prepared meals and staples that guests can take home. And it continues to do this because of your financial support.
Inflation and recession fears may continue to rear their ugly heads this summer and the media and politicians will make a big deal out of it, but with your support, Loaves and Fishes can continue its simple but effective work of providing for people’s basic needs of food and nutrition.
Chair, Loaves and Fishes Management Board
P.S. If inflation or your employment status doesn’t enable you to give right now, we understand. But if you are in a position to give, your support helps people in need through Loaves and Fishes in times exactly like this — when even daily bread is harder to come by.