SAN FRANCISCO, CA — More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, making a dollar stretch as far as possible remains a daily undertaking for the thousands in San Francisco and elsewhere still going to bed hungry.
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report, however, illustrates how stretching that dollar may be harder than ever right now.
Grocery store prices are rising nationwide as the pandemic wears on. In fact, the cost of a supermarket trip is up 3.5 percent from a year ago, according to the USDA report — 75 percent higher than the 20-year average.
The reason for the food price jump: More people eating at home during the pandemic has disrupted the nation’s supply chain, leaving producers and distributors unable to adapt and driving up food prices in the process.
The timing couldn’t be worse.
An estimated 12.8 percent of people in San Francisco were expected to experience hunger in 2021 because of the pandemic, up from 10.5 percent in 2019, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization.
As many as 42 million people nationwide could experience food insecurity, Feeding America says.
Next Tuesday is National Make Lunch Count Day. While the unofficial holiday typically encourages workers to get away from their desks to enjoy lunch, it may hold different significance this year.
Ahead of the observance and amid the increase in grocery prices, here are a few ways to make your lunch count in San Francisco:
If you have kids, participate in summer lunch programs through your school.
During the school year, 22 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program, according to Feeding America. Yet when school lets out for the summer, only 1 in 6 kids typically still have access to those meals through the USDA Summer Food Service Program.
However, the USDA in March announced a nationwide extension of several waivers that will allow the summer meal program to operate in all areas to feed all school-age children at no cost.
The extension is in effect through Sept. 30.
To learn more about summer meal programs, families should reach out to their school to find out how to sign up for free or reduced-price school meals and how to access those meals. Families can also locate summer meal programs using the USDA Meals For Kids Site Finder.
To fill in the gaps for students receiving free and reduced-price lunch who may not be able to attend summer meal programs in person, the USDA also extended the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program through this summer. The P-EBT program allows eligible school children to receive temporary emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase food.
Children are typically eligible to receive P-EBT benefits if they would have received free or reduced-price meals if their schools were not closed or limiting in-person instruction or attendance.
Sign up for food stamps.
More than 38 million Americans were recipients of SNAP benefits before the pandemic hit the United States, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Of families that receive benefits, about 9.5 million have children.
A year into the pandemic, Americans are still experiencing record joblessness — many for the first time, and some of whom have never relied on government assistance before.
SNAP, more commonly referred to as food stamps, can be a lifeline for these Americans. SNAP is targeted toward America’s most at-risk citizens, according to Feeding America. The program predominantly serves households with children, elderly or disabled members. Nearly half of all SNAP participants are children.
Federal eligibility for SNAP is limited to people whose gross incomes do not exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty level. This means a family of four can make no more than $2,633 a month to receive benefits.
To apply for SNAP benefits, you can contact your local SNAP office.
Many Feeding America member food banks also offer SNAP application assistance as a resource to help accurately fill out request forms.
Buy those “ugly” fruits and vegetables.
Fresh fruits have seen the largest price increase at the grocery store over the last year, according to the USDA. The cost of fresh fruit is about 2.5 percent higher than this time last year.
When shopping on a budget, fresh fruits and veggies are often the first to be sacrificed due to their higher price tag. Yet there’s a way to still enjoy fresh produce without spending an exorbitant amount of money.
If you have yet to journey into the wide world of at-home subscription boxes, “ugly” produce boxes might be the ones to try. In fact, those misshapen apples, ripe bananas, or cratered potatoes are generally just as nutritious and delicious as their perfect-looking counterparts.
Explore ways to trim your grocery bill.
There are tried-and-true ways to reduce the amount of money spent each week at the grocery store. By sacrificing a little time each week, you may get significantly more food for your money.
Here are a few things to try:
- Plan meals ahead of time.
- Buy generic.
- Never buy items at full price. Look for the best sales and coupons.
- Buy your pantry staples in bulk.
- Check the unit prices (the cost per ounce or per pound) when comparing products.
- Watch the cash register at checkout.
- Plant a garden.
Feeding America serves 200 member food banks that serve and supply 60,000 food pantries, kitchens and meal programs around the country.
Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness on behalf of the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that in 2021, more than 42 million Americans won’t have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a Patch social good project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations.* Find out how you can donate in your community or find a food pantry near you.
— Written by Patch editor Megan VerHelst with additional reporting by Bea Karnes