TAMPA, Fla. — Over one million people in Tampa Bay do not know where their next meal is coming from, and record-high inflation is only making matters worse for local families.
For Monica Wilson, the director of Community Food Bank in North Tampa, the need is evident twice per week. The food pantry, which used to serve about 50 families now provides meals to nearly 2,000 families.
“We’re serving three to four times the amount of people," Wilson said.
“Now, when you think about what’s happening with inflation, that has hit our families much, much harder," Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay said.
Tampa Bay outpaces the entire nation in inflation, the area is in the midst of an inflation rate of more than 10%, a high not seen in 40 years.
“They’re usually just spikes. It’s not like a continued month after month after month of seven or eight percent," Mike Snipes, professor of economics at The University of South Florida said. "That’s unusual.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall inflation in Tampa Bay hit eight percent in November and it has climbed ever since. Snipes said it is due to increasing demand in the face of unstable national markets.
“Part of the reason why we might be seeing these, kind of these disproportionate increases in food, could be that we’re still in a state of uncertainty," Snipes said.
The Consumer Price Index for March showed food rose 8.8% in price from March 2021 while groceries posted a 10% hike.
“Families that were kind of just getting back on their feet are now back on their heels," Mantz said.
Mantz took the vow to help local families get back on their feet nine years ago as the leader of Feeding Tampa Bay, but the mission to end hunger only grows more challenging by the day.
“You know someone who is food insecure, today, in your life. You just don’t happen to know that they are," Mantz said.
Mantz said one out of every six people in Tampa Bay are starving and inflation stifles his team's goal to shrink that number.
“It’s not only what happens inside the homes of those we support, but for organizations like Feeding Tampa Bay, our ability to do as much as we want to do, it’s more difficult when we have higher operating expenses," Mantz said.
Feeding Tampa Bay drives 67 to 68 delivery trucks in 10 Florida counties every day, and with the cost of diesel on the rise in recent months, the price of fuel and food is adding up.
“The cost of doing business, for us, has risen dramatically," he said.
But Mantz remains positive and relies on the help of partners around Tampa, like the food bank's relationship with Community Food Pantry.
“Even that middle-class population that used to not be tapped is being hurt by all those things when you put the combination together," Wilson said. "It’s conversation after conversation that we have with real people who are in our community that are working and trying to make it and they just can’t make ends meet.”
“You never think that you’re going to be in that position, but just to know that there are great people that will help you is amazing," Veronica Rodriguez told ABC Action News as she collected meals from the food pantry. “When I get into a better situation, I want to be the one helping too, you know? I want to be helping like someone else does. It means so much, so much.”
If you're struggling with food insecurity and need stable, nutritious meals you can visit Feeding Tampa Bay's website to find out how to collect dependable food.