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End of extra nutrition benefits, inflation and supply chain issues deliver a series of blows to ENC's hungry

Candice Parker is the director of the New Bern branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
(Photos: Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina)
Candice Parker is the director of the New Bern branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

One week ago, a program that provided extra SNAP benefits to families because of the COVID-19 pandemic came to an end.

As part of the COVID-19 public health emergency, families enrolled in the Food and Nutrition Services program in North Carolina had been receiving emergency allotments and state officials say they were critical in helping families compensate for financial hardships brought on by the pandemic.

Candice Parker is the director of the New Bern branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

“They've been receiving an extra $95 a month since March of 2020 from the State Department of Health and Human Services COVID Relief Program," she explained. "But those emergency payments are coming to an end. The average person in the program is dropping from about $8.00 a day less to less than $5.50 a day.”

It was a one-two punch of sorts, Parker says, because the food bank’s area partner agencies were already, "Seeing between a 25% and 40% increase because of inflation.”

She added, “We acknowledge this as a major blow because we serve over 600,000 food insecure people in our area.”

The end of the extra benefits is having a big impact on those 600,000 people and Parker said, “It's just another way to have to figure out how to keep food on the table with a tighter budget.”

A third punch, in the form of supply chain problems, has also made it more costly to feed the hungry.

“We do have a heavy focus on perishable foods for our programs, produce and frozen protein, because of the supply chain issues and timelines of shelf stable items,” she said.

One of the ways the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina is working to compensate, Parker says, is to focus more on the programs you might see at your local grocery store, asking shoppers to fill a paper bag to purchase nonperishable items that are donated to food bank clients.

“The New Bern branch since June of 2022 has distributed over 1.6 million pounds of food just from that retail donation program," she said, "So, what we're doing to combat inflation and the loss of these benefits is we're strengthening and we are expanding that donation program.”

The end of the pandemic-related benefits, the increase in inflation, the rising cost of energy, supply chain issues, and other factors have made more and more difficult for some not just to put food on the table but Parker says those challenges also make it hard to address other critical needs, especially single mothers. Parker said, "We do not ever want to see a single mom having to make a choice between a pack of hamburger meat and a pack of tampons, for example, because even period insecurity is real.”

Donations to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina can be made HERE.

Those in need of food can use the food bank’s Food Finder to connect with an agency in their area that can help. It’s available HERE.

Annette is originally a Midwest gal, born and raised in Michigan, but with career stops in many surrounding states, the Pacific Northwest, and various parts of the southeast. An award-winning journalist and mother of four, Annette moved to eastern North Carolina in 2019 to be closer to family – in particular, her two young grandchildren. It’s possible that a -27 day with a -68 windchill in Minnesota may have also played a role in that decision. In her spare time, Annette does a lot of kiddo cuddling, reading, and producing the coolest Halloween costumes anyone has ever seen. She has also worked as a diversity and inclusion facilitator serving school districts and large corporations. It’s the people that make this beautiful area special, and she wants to share those stories that touch the hearts of others. If you have a story idea to share, please reach out by email to westona@cravencc.edu.