COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Gas and groceries aren’t the only goods where inflation is rearing its head.
Free meal programs in Ohio are also being hit by the financial strain of inflation — a cause of concern for Columbus City Schools Food Services Director Joseph Brown, who said the district is expecting more students to rely on its free meal program this year than in the past.
“Unfortunately, one hungry child is too many,” Brown said. “But with what’s happening in our country right now, we expect to see increases in the amount of students that participate in our program.”
For several years and throughout the pandemic, Columbus schools have been providing free breakfast and lunch programs for students.
Even with the anticipated rise in students resorting on meal programs, Brown said the district expects to have the capacity to provide free meals for their students all year long.
The school district itself isn’t the only program expecting to see an increase in need. Ashley Kanney, founder and president of Feed the Kids Columbus, said the nonprofit organization expects to feed about 5,500 students this year.
“I think that the increase in need will be drastic compared to two years ago when we were relying on this,” said Kanney, whose group provides supplemental groceries to local schools and students. “And even to last year.”
Inflation is not only increasing the need for programs like Kanney’s that provides meals to students over extended breaks. The cost of the food Kanney’s group is handing out has risen nearly 33%, according to Mike Ensminger, a board member of Feed the Kids Columbus.
“Things that used to cost us $10 — for instance, a box of oatmeal — is now costing $15,” Ensminger said.
Oatmeal is just one item Feed the Kids Columbus provides. Kanney said their costs are up across the board.
“We estimate that it’s going to take about $10 more per child to fulfill our program this year,” she said, “Which increases our prices or our budget to about $55,000.”
Despite the increase in cost and a tough year for funding, Kanney and Ensminger continue to expand their program, as the need in their community is more important.
“The summer could be a time for great anxiety because they rely on the free and reduced lunch programs at their schools to have consistent reliable access to food,” Ensminger said.
If you would like the find ways to donate to Feed the Kids Columbus, visit their website.
Brown said the Columbus school district is also looking for employees to help with their Free Meal Program. More information on job opportunities and how to get involved can be found on their website.