The Atlanta Community Food Bank operates a fleet of 20 trucks that deliver millions of pounds of groceries to 700 partner agencies. Soaring gas prices due to inflation more than doubled the food bank’s transportation costs in March. (ACFB)

Inflation is at its highest in 40 years with prices soaring for gasoline, food and housing. The high prices are squeezing the pocketbooks of metro Atlanta residents, but also denting the budgets of area food banks.

In March, the Atlanta Community Food Bank spent roughly $65,000 on transportation costs, most of that money used to fuel its fleet of trucks that deliver groceries to 600 partner agencies in 29 counties. That’s more than double the $30,000 ACFB spent last March to gas up its 20 tractor-trailer trucks. At this rate, ACFB could see its transportation costs increase $400,000 from last year.

ACFB is currently delivering about 8 million pounds of food a month, about 2 million pounds fewer than last year at the height of the pandemic. But cost for the food is 30% more than a year ago. 

“The current challenges that we’re all experiencing with higher prices, for gas, for food, for supplies, are causing demand for food assistance to increase and it’s making it more expensive and more challenging for the food bank to respond to that demand,” said ACFB President and CEO Kyle Waid. 

The Labor Department recently reported its Consumer Price Index increased 8.5% in the past year, the highest since 1981. Metro Atlanta prices were much higher than the national average, though, coming in at more than 10%. The price increases are especially hard on people already living on the margins — those who are living paycheck-to-paycheck or on fixed incomes.

Just as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to ramp up, the ACFB moved into its new, 345,000-square-foot building in East Point. The new space, the largest food bank facility in the nation, was immediately pressed into service to help students, their families and those left hungry after school and business closures. T

“We’ve been supported through the pandemic, and we went through a capital campaign just before the pandemic, so we’re in a good position financially,” Waid said.

“But we ran a pretty big deficit in the month of March. And the longer this goes on, the less, more challenging it’ll become to sustain it,” he said. “So we got to continue to go out and get support from the community in order to continue to meet the need in this more expensive environment.” 

The Community Assistance Center partners with ACFB to operate its three food pantries in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. The center also offers financial assistance, job placement and clothing. Some 500 families a month make use of the food pantries. But need is increasing due to inflation, said CEO and Executive Director Francis Horton. 

“With food prices rising, housing prices rising, transportation prices rising, it just tends to eat up the little bit of margin that most of our clients have,” Horton said. 

Horton said to realize the true impact of inflation, you must compare this year’s costs to 2019, before the pandemic struck. The center’s costs now are about 25% higher than they were three years ago. 

“We did $100,000 in February alone in just direct financial assistance,” Horton said. “Electricity is going up, natural gas is going up, and everything’s going up. It’s definitely impacting the monthly budgets of people. They need help now more for cost-of-living expenses more than anything due to the pandemic.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.