Rent hikes, inflation pushing people back to food banks

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — As Central Florida tries to move on from the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment rates decline, food pantries are again seeing more people come through their doors thanks to huge cost of living hikes in the region.

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Chip Hanna, the executive director of Servant’s Heart Ministry in Pine Castle, said more people began walking into his office a few weeks ago. He and his staff prepare boxes of food for 200 families per week – 50 fewer than their pandemic high, but still double the number they were serving in 2019.

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“It’s a different kind need that it was in the past,” he said. “Now, we’re hearing situations where, hey, my rent has gone up by hundreds of dollars, we no longer can afford even live in this apartment, much less buy food.”

In some parts of Orange County, the cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment has increased by nearly $500 since January, according to websites that track prices in the county. The sites suggest workers should now make more than $60,000 per year to comfortably afford a market-rate unit.

One man who Eyewitness News spoke to said his rent has increased $150 per month in recent months. He described his apartment as practically unlivable, plagued by mold, rats and broken AC units, but said he couldn’t afford another place in the neighborhood, which he liked.

Orlando is considered one of the most expensive cities in the country to rent in when compared to the amount people make, advocates say.

Pair that with an inflation rate topping 6%, and families are stretching their budgets to the max.

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“It’s more of an ‘insult to injury,’” a spokesman for Second Harvest Food Bank said. “Whenever prices in the stores go up, it’s a deeper burden on low-income families, for sure.”

He continued by saying families that were out of work during the pandemic have struggled to catch up, financially. Second Harvest is putting out 250,000 meals per day right now, compared to 150,000 under normal circumstances.

His sentiment echoed Hanna’s, who is predicting his organization has yet to see the true effects of the current situation.

“If the storm finally arrives, and people truly need our help, there is a place like Servant’s Heart Ministry that people can come to and get the support they’re going to need,” he said. He added that he is budgeting 30% more money for food every month than he did two years ago.

He said his organization is supported by Second Harvest and local grocery stores, who have been donating more than usual. However, he’s looking for drivers to add to his team of 40 who get meals to families each week.

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“Just being able to serve people is a privilege, so I try not to let it things weigh me down too much,” he said.

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