Officials at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank placed an online order with the U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities program late last month for almost $400,000.
The next day, officials were told they owed an extra $36,000 because of a sudden price increase as the order was being filled. Contributing to the sharp rise was the cost of a truckload of peanut butter, a popular item that jumped $6,000 in just minutes.
The Columbus-based organization, which supplies food to more than 500 pantries, soup kitchens and other charities in 20 central and eastern counties, had to return a tractor-trailer load of spaghetti and another load of spaghetti sauce to make ends meet.
In the last year, the price of spaghetti has jumped 98 percent, applesauce 48 percent and whole-kernel corn 33 percent, Mid-Ohio officials said. Even though the organization buys food in bulk to save money, it stopped purchasing rice because the price has gone up 118 percent since 2007.
``We are going to have to work even harder to find more food from all of our sources—the food industry, farmers, the state of Ohio—and increase bulk purchases with donated funds,'' said executive director Matt Habash.
Competition for the organization's supplies among food pantries is intense. For example, Mid-Ohio had 2,000 cases of canned chicken available through its online ordering system one recent morning.
The system opens at about 7:30 a.m. By 8 a.m., all 2,000 cases were claimed.
Because of the rising costs, food banks across Ohio must fill a gap of 26 million pounds of food in order to continue feeding the poor and working poor, according to an analysis by the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.
Food inflation is at a 17-year high, and that's affecting families as well as food banks, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the association's executive director.
``People's incomes have not matched rising costs,'' she said. ``For our families, there's no place left to cut. They've already cut.''
Demand for food from Mid-Ohio is up 14 percent from a year ago, and the organization now hands out an average of 11.3 pounds of food per request, down from 13.6 pounds to individuals and families three years ago.
Soaring fuel prices are also squeezing Mid-Ohio's budget. The organization runs a fleet of trucks, which picks up surplus food and then delivers it to pantries and soup kitchens.
The extra $200,000 budgeted for expected fuel price increases probably won't be enough, Habash said.
On the Net: Mid-Ohio Food Bank, http://www.midohiofoodbank.org/
Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks,
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com