Food Prices Squeezing Families, Food Banks

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American families, already pinched by soaring energy costs, are taking another big hit to their household budgets as food prices rise at the fastest rate in a decade.

For Karen Sweeney, buying food for her family of five has always been costly. But with food prices going up, feeding her family has become even more of a challenge.

"Our grocery bill has gone up about $100 a month," Sweeney told CBN News.

Sticker Shock

Record-high energy, corn and wheat prices in the past year have led to sticker shock for most people in the grocery aisles.

Ground beef, milk, chicken, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, coffee and orange juice are among the staples that cost more these days, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports overall food prices rose nearly five percent last year. That means a carton of Grade A, large eggs will set you back $2.17. That's an increase of nearly a one dollar since February of 2006. Milk prices have also increased 26 percent.

"I'm having to travel a little bit further on milk for a cheaper price," Sweeney explained. "I buy more at a time, so I don't have to make the extra trip as often."

Sweeney has been successful in finding several ways to trim the fat from her food budget. CBN News asked her how she is saving money by baking her own bread.

"I bake bread about every four days," she said. "I make four loaves and we store them. It's healthier for us and more cost effective. It's roughly around $1.00 to $1.25 per loaf of whole grain bread," she continued.

More Turn to Food Banks

As food prices continue to rise, more and more people are turning to local food banks to help feed their families.

"Some people just don't have the money to put out for food and what it is costing in this day and time," said Gene Wiggins, a food bank client.

Lolethia Jones is a volunteer at her church's food pantry, which receives groceries from the local food bank.

"You have a husband and wife working, but the work is reduced. And when you have three and four children and you're working part time and your husband's hours have been cut short, there's a real need," she told CBN News. "The vegetables and fresh produce, and the canned goods and the bread - can't leave the bread out - it's just been a blessing to them."

America's Harvest, the nation's food bank network, distributes nearly two billion pounds of food and grocery products to food banks across the country. Its client load increased by 20 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

Clark Mandigo is the Chief Operation Officer of the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia.

"This past year, we saw a significant increase," Mandigo said. "A lot of that had to do with gas prices, which affect everything on down the line. This year we've seen the number of requests go up, because those prices continue to rise and folks are having a harder time. A lot of people we were not seeing before are coming to food pantries and our partner agencies," he explained.

Food banks all over the country are feeling the pinch.

"We are having to purchase more food," Mandigo said. "That is something every food bank is faced with now, because of the dwindling supply of donated goods."

Some industry observers say higher food prices are here to stay. If so, consumers won't be the only ones needing help with food.

"We're going to have to get very creative with how we feed not only our community, but the world as well," Mandigo said. "It is going to be a long process for all of us."

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