NORTHPORT, Ala. (WIAT) — As inflation drives up the price for goods and services, food banks across our area are seeing more first-time visitors to the shelves.

“We are always down a little bit in summer, but not like we are right now,” West Alabama Food Bank CEO Jean Rykaczewski said. “Normally we’ve got lines of everything and every set is full.”

Rykaczewski said compared to this time last year, they’re seeing a 25 percent uptick in first time visitors to the food bank.

Dr. James Cochran, University of Alabama Associate Dean for Research at the Culverhouse College of Business, said it’s the price at the pump causing the domino effect.

“Since oil and gasoline are such lynch pin products for our economy, this means that all other prices are going up as well,” Cochran said. “Because we need oil and gasoline to get goods and services from where they’re produced to where they’re consumed.”

Cochran said supply never caught up from the lower demand during the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine isn’t helping.

“You’ve got people making hard choices about medical care versus food versus shelter,” Cochran said. “It’s really always horrible.”

Cochran said people who can afford gasoline should try to lessen how much they use by cutting back on several mini trips to the grocery store in a week or going somewhere closer for vacation this summer.

“That’s going to help bring down prices for those who are most acutely hurt by the increases in gasoline prices,” Cochran said.

Those in need of food security assistance should know food bank workers believe there is no shame in hunger. They’re here to help you in any way necessary, especially for those utilizing the system for the first time.

“We’re here to help. Other agencies are here to help,” Rykaczewski said. “And really people need to reach out and we need to start taking care of each other right now.”

The West Alabama Food Bank said monetary donations are preferred because they can buy food wholesale and get more to stock the shelves at a better rate.

The food bank offers a summer feeding program across West Alabama where children ages 0-18 can get two meals per day and help parents better stretch their budgets.