Thursday, June 13, 2024

High egg prices reveal rising food insecurity in Upper Valley

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LEAVENWORTH – UV MEND’s Community Cupboard is in need of eggs. According to Food Programs Manager Rachel Bishop, the price of eggs has skyrocketed for the pantry since the beginning of 2024, putting pressure on the nonprofit that is serving more people in the community than ever before.

“It was $12 per five dozen, and now it's $21 per five dozen,” said Bishop. “It is something that our shoppers have told us they want…And it's just such a great source of protein for folks that many families, many cultures use in their cooking.”

This could be due to Washington’s cage-free egg law, which passed in 2019 but went into effect in January of this year. The law requires that all eggs sold in the state be from cage-free hens that have access to scratch areas, perches, nesting, and dust bathing areas. 

Higher prices have also been attributed to the fluctuations of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which has affected 85.87 million birds in the U.S. since Feb. 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA confirmed one commercial case affecting 1 million chickens in Washington State in 2022. 

“It's a great law for the chickens. They have more humane care. But the price increase along with everything [being] so expensive right now with inflation…This is just another thing that people have to think about when they're shopping and feeding their families. It’s challenging,” said Bishop.

The Community Cupboard is able to purchase eggs from Safeway through its own funding. Still, Bishop says she will have to research cheaper options or apply for grants to maintain the pantry’s bi-weekly purchase of approximately 225 dozen eggs and meet the needs of over a thousand individuals they see each month. 

According to Plain Pantry Co-Director Mari Lynn Warthen, Plain Pantry has noticed fluctuating egg prices but has not felt the financial pressures due to its smaller size and partnerships. The pantry operates out of a single-wide mobile home, serving about 30 households a week. Typically, the pantry is able to easily fill its space with donations from partnerships alone, allowing the ability to afford the occasional egg purchase.

“For us, it's just a small bump in the road,” said Warthen.

However, Warthen says she has noticed an increase in the community's need for support in recent years. Since she and her husband started running the pantry two and a half years ago, the number of households using it has grown from 20 to 30. 

“Up here and I'm sure everywhere, the cost of housing and rent is very high and has jumped. Then, gas especially impacted the people that live up here, because they're remote, and if they have a job they have to drive around quite a bit. So gas, housing big time, and then obviously, the jump in food cost, are the three, which are the basic cost of living,” said Warthen.

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the increasing need has been felt statewide. WSDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program reported nearly 11 million total client visits to food pantries across the state in 2023, reaching 2.6 million more visits than the year prior. Before 2023, visits averaged around 8.2 million since 2013, with the highest year totaling 8.9 million in 2014.

Upper Valley MEND is noticing similar spikes. According to Bishop, the Community Cupboard served 370 more households in 2023 than in 2022 and has signed up over a hundred households since the start of 2024.

“The needs are higher than they've ever been in the history of the community,” said Bishop. “I think it's important for our community to know how much food insecurity there is here…By visiting Leavenworth or just even driving through town, I don't think you would know it.”

The Community Cupboard has a list of donations they are currently accepting at uvmend.org/food. Both home-raised and grocery bought egg donations are welcome. Plain Pantry is accepting non-perishable and money donations. More information can be found at plaincommunitychurch.org/thepantry.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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