Nonprofit leaders say rising inflation is hitting Summit County community members hard
The price of gas and food are leaving little wiggle room in personal budgets
Summit County had challenges before the pandemic, but the virus, disruptions in supply chains and now inflation are exacerbating these issues. The lack of affordable housing and few child care options already make it difficult for some to carve out a long-term life in the community, but now the rising cost of living is making budgets even tighter, community leaders say.
According to the most recent consumer price index report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the cost of all items measured rose nearly 8% over the past year. A release from the organization noted that the cost of gasoline, shelter and food were the largest items to contribute to the increase. Over the past 12 months, the cost of some goods has been steadily increasing, and now the inflation rate is the highest it has been since January 1982.
Community members don’t have to be told that the cost of basics like gas and food has taken a sharp turn. According to Brianne Snow, executive director at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, the number of visits to the nonprofit’s food markets have “skyrocketed” since December. Snow said comparing December 2021 to December 2022, the number of visits were up 123%. Visits were up 177% when comparing this past January to January 2021.
Between December and February, Snow said there has been a 17% increase in the number of families visiting the food market and that there has been a 12% increase in the number of families that have visited the food markets multiple times in a single month.
“Most of our clients are in lower-income households, so they’re less able to accommodate rising prices at gas tanks and grocery stores,” Snow said. “These folks are already working so hard to stretch limited budgets … and they can’t absorb the higher costs like other folks might be able to do.”
Although the nonprofit is seeing a lot of new people visit the food markets, Snow said there’s still quite a few community members leaving the county altogether, making it difficult to interpret these numbers. Even so, Snow said she’s heard anecdotes from clients who carpool to the food markets to save on gas. In fact, she said making decisions based on gas prices seems to be more of a common occurrence among clients.
Gas prices were already rising prior to Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, and now the conflict overseas is making American budgets tighter. Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA, said a week ago that drivers across Colorado should expect prices to continue to climb. According to Nancy Higuera, food market supervisor at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, it seems like some community members are listening.
“We have a lot of shoppers come in. They all come in in one car, and in one car, there’s like up to four different families,” Higuera said. “Everybody’s carpooling together to be able to come to the food market. Driving one car, instead of four separate cars, saves gas.”
The nonprofit runs two food markets, one out of Breckenridge and another out of Dillon. Snow explained that the markets carry items that are typically more expensive, such as meat, dairy, eggs and fresh produce. The idea is that shoppers can get these items through the market and less expensive items, such as canned goods, from the grocery store.
The market is not income-qualified, and only basic information — such as names, dates of birth, phone numbers and how many others are in a household — is collected during a shopper’s first visit. No appointments are needed, and first-time shoppers are always welcome.
The nonprofit relies on some partnerships to purchase fresh food, but Higuera said she’s noticed in recent months that donations haven’t been coming through the doors as much as they used to be. The nonprofit has partnerships with local entities to pick up food before it goes to waste, but she said even those are becoming less frequent. This doesn’t help as more shoppers frequent the markets.
“I actually had one customer, one shopper, come in and say, ‘I went to City Market to go get groceries and left because it was too expensive and I came here,’ and that to me is crazy,” Higuera said. “Things are getting way too expensive right now.”
In Safeway’s 2021 ad for Wednesday, March 17, the grocery store advertised fresh, natural, skinless chicken breasts or thighs for $1.97 per pound. Just this past week, the same item was advertised for $3.99 per pound.
City Market is advertising similar increases on some of its items. Last year, its ad for the same day marked Eckrich smoked sausage as two for $5. The same item this past week was advertised as two for $7.
Not all items have such a dramatic increase, but Snow noted that these small changes have a big impact in the long-run.
“We live in a really expensive area, so these changes are really impacting our clients’ budgets. It’s making a huge difference on being able to live the life they’ve been living,” Snow said.
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