Supply chain disruptions challenge holiday food giveaways

DALLAS (BP) – With food supplies falling as low as 11 percent below last year, church-based feeding programs are finding it more difficult to provide traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this holiday season.

“We have run from store to store to store to store trying to find (turkeys),” Chris Simmons, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dallas, said. “It’s just a supply chain issue. … But it’s been a challenge this year.

“We’re even sending word out to some of our partners to help us to purchase turkeys and bring them to us. I think we will meet our quota, but it’s just really going to take an all-hands-on-deck effort to make that happen. Whereas in the past, we’ve been able to just go out and purchase turkeys in bulk. This year because of the supply chain, we might have to get other partners to come alongside us and purchase those items in their own communities to help us out.”

Cornerstone Baptist Church Senior Pastor Chris Simmons, at left, partners with other churches and community groups to feed the community at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Whole turkeys had only a 38.9 percent stock availability Oct. 31, market research firm IRI reported Nov. 9. On average, global supply chain disruptions cut food and household supplies by 4 percent to 11 percent through last month, compared to the same time last year, IRI said.

Cornerstone will serve a holiday meal this weekend and on Thanksgiving Day, reaching about 1,500 people on Thanksgiving alone, Simmons said. The weekend preceding Thanksgiving, Cornerstone will give away 300-400 food baskets in partnership with other churches and community groups.

“We use a lot of turkeys this time of year. If we can’t get them, one alternative is to do ham or chicken, or something like that,” he said. Prices “have gone up tremendously. From our perspective, we just have to pay the price to bring the traditional turkey dinner to our homeless community, our families in need.”

An 8- to 16-pound turkey costs nearly 25 percent more than a year ago, Wells Fargo reported.

The supply chain crisis and inflated prices are impacting states differently, with IRI reporting Texas, Nebraska and Kansas among the hardest hit. In Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, supplies are more plentiful than the national average, exceeding it by 7 to 9 percentage points.

But some Florida churches are experiencing difficulties in securing adequate supplies for holiday meal programs, said Jeffery Singletary, Florida Baptist Convention central region catalyst, pointing out at least two churches that have requested help. Singletary will secure some of the needed supplies through a partnership with the One More Child (formerly Florida Baptist Children’s Home) food bank and provide dollars to purchase additional supplies if needed.

One More Child, formerly the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, collects food for children and families in warehouses including its Azinger Family Compassion Center in Bradenton, Fla.

“It’s costing us more to get less,” Singletary said. “We were looking at some of the prices last week, and they almost doubled. Some items have doubled. Some items have tripled, in terms of their cost. It’s supply and demand. The supply is down, the demand is up.

“They were citing costs to me,” he said of churches, “because at some level they want me to help.” Churches cited higher prices for such items as turkeys, chickens, rice, potatoes and cooking oil.

Jerry Haag, president/CEO of One More Child, said the organization, which serves children around the world, has worked with partnering grocers to meet the demand.

“We have all been facing challenges that have made it more difficult to provide essential food to a growing number of children and families in crisis who are hungry and need our support. Thankfully we have been able to pivot and find new ways to get food into the hands of hungry children and struggling families through our partnerships with companies like Publix and Kroger,” Haag said. “We have the processes and structure in place to remain nimble, and we thank God that we are still on track this year to provide more than 20 million meals in spite of the challenges we face. We are constantly establishing new partnerships and evaluating solutions to serve one more child.”

In Rapid City, S.D., Valley Community Church plans to serve 100 Thanksgiving meals to community members Nov. 20 in the second year of the church outreach, this year in partnership with the Rapid Valley Fire Department. Event spokesman Bill Resterer said he has managed to work around supply chain disruptions. He served 50 people in 2020, but had to turn away 13 cars.

“I planned ahead of time and our local grocery stores worked with me again on things like ham,” he said. “It’s a simple little dinner that we’re putting together. We got it all.”

Resterer said God laid it on his heart to start the food program last year, but he said he doesn’t see much of a hunger problem in the community. Rapid City had an unemployment rate of 2.3 percent in September, less than half the national rate of 4.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Cornerstone, community and church partners are key to the program’s livelihood, with Park City Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Richardson, and Valley Ranch Baptist Church among partners.

“It’s really a true community partnership,” Simmons said, “of us working with our churches in North Dallas to meet the need.” The church distributed 200 baskets in 2019 and served about 800 meals on Thanksgiving, Simmons said, but the need doubled in 2020 and has remained steady.

Simmons will shop early for Christmas dinner supplies, storing frozen supplies in the church’s large-capacity, walk-in freezer.

The church is plentiful in volunteers.

“We are in a unique situation,” Simmons said. “Because of our connection with our Baptist churches, we have a network through our association. Actually, for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner, we literally have to limit the number of volunteers … because we get so many people wanting to serve on those days. We reserve those days for only our partner churches.”

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