Grocery shoppers feeling the price crunch



By Katie O'Connell

Gibson City resident Kirk Bedwell stood in front of the meat section at Jerry’s IVA, examining different packages for the best deal possible.

“There’s four of us so we try to buy eight packs and have two nights of dinner instead of one,” Bedwell said.

Bedwell, like many Americans, has started to find different ways to shop because of rising prices. However, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 aims to help those who have been left shopping around for the best deal.

The bill, which became a law on May 22, will address rising food prices by investing $10.361 billion in nutrition programs.

According to a press release from the office of Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., the nutrition programs are intended to

receive 73 percent of the money from the bill.

“This legislation was the result of months and months of negotiation, meetings and consultations with constituents and affected interest groups,” Johnson said in the press release. “The bill is not perfect, and it’s a rare piece of legislation that is. But on balance it is good for our farmers and agricultural economy and that means it is good for the 15th Congressional District.”

One portion of the law specifically supports the needs of food banks, giving $1.26 billion to the Emergency Food Assistance Program which helps stocks food banks. Another $50 million was allocated to immediately address shortages at food pantries.

For the Restoration Urban Ministries Food Pantry in Champaign, such shortages are a reality.

The pantry gives out boxes of food to families bi-weekly based on their size, but they have been unable to keep up with the recent increased demand.

On Thursday the pantry had what Executive Director Ervin Williams described as “one of our worst days.” The pantry opened around 10 a.m., and registration for boxes was stopped for an hour and a half to keep up with demand.

“There’s too many families, not enough shippers, and we’re unable to get boxes prepared and turned out as fast as we’d like,” Williams said. “We had families here as long as an hour waiting.”

Williams said that a year and a half ago the pantry averaged 20 families a day seeking assistance, but with rising costs more families are turning to the center for help.

“Our numbers have drastically increased, where at one point we may have been doing 20 families in the same amount of time, now it’s closer to 60 families,” Williams said. “We’re actually registering families almost on a daily basis.”

Although the Farm Bill is intended to help such pantries, Williams said that it’s difficult to say whether the Urban Ministries Food Pantry will receive such assistance because they are a faith-based organization that relies mainly on private donations.

Until the price of food goes down, however, Williams is uncertain about how many donations the pantry will receive.

“People right now aren’t sure what the future may hold, so there’s more of a need to hold onto what you’ve got to be sure that you can take care of yourself first,” Williams said. “That means less money is coming through.”

Bedwell said he can sympathize with the struggles of the local food pantries, and added that his family is trying to keep up with the money that they donate to such causes.

Still, Bedwell said that his shopping patterns have been affected by the rising prices.

For instance, Bedwell said that his family shops either closer to work or closer to home so that they don’t have to spend extra money on gas while shopping.

Also, Bedwell said his family has a HVC membership card to Jerry’s IGA. For him, the financial benefits from such membership are another reason why he shops at smaller stores rather than larger franchise chains.

Brian Hettinger, assistant store manager at Jerry’s IGA on Kirby Avenue in Champaign, said that the store hasn’t seen a drastic change in customers’ shopping habits. However, Hettinger said that with gas hitting $4 a gallon there’s a possibility that shopping habits could change.

“It’s hard to say because prices go up and down all the time,” Hettinger said.

2008 Farm Bill

The nutrition part of the Farm Bill deals with the issues of promoting health and fighting hunger in the U.S. through the following measures:

  • Investing $10.361 billion in nutrition programs to address rising food prices
  • Support programs that aid food bank to fight food insecurity
  • Reforms benefit rules to cover, sustaining the Food Stamp Program
  • Stop benefit erosion to ensure the food dollar stays strong
  • Updates the Food Stamp Program to combat abuse
  • Ensures that senior citizens have access that food
  • Promote health and well-being of children and low-income families
  • Improves the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Increases cooperation between farmers and organizations in urban areas
  • Works to battle health issues and obesity