With the cost of groceries and gasoline continuing to skyrocket, Denise Wiggins of Wyandanch is feeling the pinch.
Wiggins, a retired electronics manufacturer who supports her daughter and nine grandchildren, estimates she is spending an additional $50 per week at the grocery store alone — more than her fixed income can endure.
"The price of food is so high," Wiggins said Friday as she picked up two bags of groceries at the Bread of Life World Outreach Center food pantry in Wyandanch.
She added that her biggest worry is "not being able to afford to feed my family."
Wiggins is not alone.
Food banks and pantries across Long Island are reporting major upticks in demand in recent weeks as the cost of food soars due to inflation while gasoline and home heating prices surge to record levels, in part, because of Russia's war with Ukraine.
Staff at Bread of Life said they are seeing 10 to 15 new families each week picking up bags of produce, meat, dairy and nonperishable items. In the past, the pantry might see three or four new customers weekly.
Apostle Randy Brown, the overseeing bishop for Bread of Life, says people in the community are beginning to panic as the need grows by the day.
"Sometimes the lines are around the building or the parking lot," Brown said.
Island Harvest, a Melville-based food bank that provides Bread of Life with 3,000 pounds of food to distribute each week, said it is seeing demand from across Long Island.
One Brentwood pantry saw its participation double in a two-week period, said Allison Puglia, chief programs and network officer at Island Harvest. Other larger locations are seeing 25 to 30 new families each week, she said.
"We know people that are coming are struggling to pay for the increased gas prices. They are struggling to pay for the increased food prices," Puglia said. "And because of that, they now have to make decisions that they did not want to before. … Should they put food on the table or should they buy gas to get to work?"
Paule Pachter, chief executive officer of Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank in Hauppauge, said it had seen a 16% uptick in visitors seeking assistance over the past three to four months.
Long Island Cares currently services 218,000 Long Islanders who are "food insecure" and do not have consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle.
"We anticipate that if inflation continues, which it might, we'll assist an additional 34,880 people struggling to feed their families," this year, Pachter said.
Inflation also affects the ability of food banks such as Long Island Cares to stock its shelves.
Last year, Pachter said, it was able to purchase food at an average of 89 cents per pound. This year, those same products cost $1.35 per pound, he said.
On top of inflation and skyrocketing prices at the pump, Puglia said many of her regulars were still dealing with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased rental costs and reduced hours at work.
"They are definitely sharing that the increased prices are taking a toll on them," she said.
One visitor to Island Harvest, a veteran, recently told Puglia that the food pantry donations provided her with enough additional money to afford a $30 round-trip taxi ride to visit her son in the hospital.
Wiggins, who visits Bread of Life every Friday, said she was deeply appreciative for the fruit, milk and cereals that help feed her grandkids, whose ages range from 3 to 22.
"It makes a big difference," she said. "These are the things that I don't have to buy."
With Cecilia Dowd