There’s a record tab for Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Some people are pinching pennies just to figure out how to make it work to make the holiday special. According to the American Farm Bureau’s annual survey, the price of cooking a traditional holiday meal has risen 20% since last year, amid record-high inflation and supply issues linked to avian flu. The biggest price hikes are on stuffing mix, up 69% compared to last year, turkey, up 21% and pie crusts, up 26%.
That means that prices have increased for charities and nonprofits too. These organizations and their workers are looking to serve people who might not otherwise have a meal at all for the national holiday on Nov. 24. A spokesperson from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank said that this year not many turkeys were donated in large quantities, which means their staff needs to put in the work to purchase them. But, that’s no easy feat considering market conditions. They are paying 10% more than last year for turkeys and chickens. Employees at food banks and other charities have pivoted to buying chickens to ensure they have at least something to offer for distributions. Cinthia Onoa, programs manager at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, said this is the first year where there is more of an impact from inflation than the pandemic when it comes to how busy they are. Food distribution levels there are still two times pre-pandemic levels.
“Every year is pretty hectic, honestly,” said Shannon Coker, chief operating officer at the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, who is experiencing a similar situation. “But this year, we’re seeing more people in need due to rising inflation and the pressure that is putting on the families we serve. It’s certainly increasing the pressure for our organization to deliver the most meaningful food to our neighbors.”
She says the days are long and hard, but equally meaningful and gratifying. Employees at food banks and pantries across the country can agree.
“It is pretty crazy as you can imagine,” said Man-Yee Lee, director of communications at the nonprofit Greater Chicago Food Depository, which has 260 employees. “Everyone is focused on the mission of making sure our neighbors in need have a holiday meal.”
The company’s coverage area has one in four households with children that are facing hunger right now. By the time the holiday season is over, they will have given out 2.67 million meals with their 700 partner sites. They began prepping for this holiday season back in February.
“We started a few months earlier this year to get ahead of issues with supply chain delays, rising food prices, and the avian flu outbreak,” said Lee. “There were concerns about shortages of turkeys this year so we took inventory earlier so that everyone can have a holiday meal.”
Lee has worked some nights until midnight because they are down two people this season in her department.
“The inflation and elevated food prices are really challenging,” Lee added. “It weighs on our staff. But, everyone is here for the mission. They’re great people, driven by this idea that food is a basic human right and we are doing everything we can so that people who need food can get food.”
At the end of the day, we all need work-life balance, but it might be particularly hard to find when someone’s job is to ensure everyone in the community has a good meal on their table on Thursday and all of the other days of the year. That’s why Coker is especially intentional about giving herself time to rest and relax to avoid burnout. She said she reads a book, enjoys her coffee before starting her work day, exercises and spends time with loved ones.
“I do it all the time throughout our busy season because I cannot pour from an empty cup so holding off until after the holidays will cause me to burn out quicker,” said Coker, who encourages other nonprofit workers to do the same.
Similarly, Onoa said she spends time with her family.
“We try to keep to our 40-hour work weeks, but we have to be flexible as some of our distributions and volunteer activities take place on the weekends,” said Onoa. “I think it is important for people to remember that, while we are top-of-mind over the holidays, we are busy all year long, and if you are looking to donate or volunteer, we need help in the other seasons, too.”