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As pandemic benefits end, an Alabama food bank feels the effects

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last week, millions of Americans lost a portion of the benefits they receive through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The temporary boost to the program expired on March 1 for 32 states and the District of Columbia. It had already expired in the other 18 states. Food banks say they were already struggling to keep up with demand. And for many families, this has turned a tough challenge - getting enough good food as prices rise into an emergency. We wanted to hear more about this from someone who's seeing it up close. So we called Linda Jones. We first spoke with her in January of 2022. She's the co-founder of Alabama Childhood Food Solutions. That's a nonprofit based in Sylacauga, Ala., that distributes food to people who need it. And she's with us once again. Linda Jones, thanks so much for joining us once again.

LINDA JONES: Well, thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to you calling.

MARTIN: So when we talked with you just over a year ago, you told us that your group was providing food on the regular - on a regular basis to about 160 families once a week. What about now?

JONES: Well, now we are doing right at 800 families once a month. It just keeps continuing to grow. The SNAP program being cut, that's going to cut people about $281 per person. And so we know that we're going to start getting more and more people calling for us. It's a great, big hardship on our clients that come through to see us. They're just already down and out. You know, they don't have very much to begin with. And then when you take something else from them and then with the prices going up, it's just extra hard on them.

One of our clients, who is elderly, she lives by herself, and she's not in great health. She's a widow, and she lost her driver's license. And she said, I just can't afford $46 to go get another license. She says, it's not - it's just an ID 'cause I can't drive anymore. And she said, I can't afford $46. She said, my rent went up $50, the light bill went up $61 and my water bill went up 20. She said, and I just don't have any more money.

MARTIN: When we last talked, you were telling us about some of the big price increases that you were noticing, even just for your own shopping, like things like the foil and things like that. Are there some things that you've really noticed that have just stood out to you over the course of the year?

JONES: Well, eggs, you know, bread, even. Bread is almost three and $4. And then eggs, they're six and $8 a dozen now here, and that's just unreal. Milk has gone up. Everything has gone up so much.

MARTIN: Is there something you think that you would like people to know about what those benefits have meant to people? What are some of the other things that you're hearing from people you work with?

JONES: Most of them just complain about everything going up. They can't afford their cars. They can't afford the gas. And so many of them will come, like, three and four in a vehicle just to be able to get there.

MARTIN: I'm just wondering, though, if it's hard for you to hear these stories. I mean, you're doing the best you can, but I'm just wondering if it's hard for you to hear this.

JONES: It's very hard to hear the stories. I do believe in Jesus. So I come home every afternoon when I - we have our distribution, and I pray and pray and pray for the ones that have come through. And I'll call them by name because some of them I know their names, and some of them I don't. I just say, Lord, you know who they are. I don't. And I'll pray for their situations 'cause some of them got cancer. Some of them have heart problems. Some of them have lost limbs. And it really - it hurts your heart to see these kind of people come through. But we're so thankful that we're there and we can give them the food that they need, and we love on them. We give them the love and compassion that they need at that time.

MARTIN: Well, that's Linda Jones. We first spoke with her in January of 2022. She's telling us about how things are where she is now that the SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, the expanded benefits, are now being ended. She's the co-founder of Alabama Childhood Food Solutions. Linda Jones, thanks so much for talking with us once again, and you hang in there.

JONES: I will. Thank you very much for having us. And I pray that this will - people will listen and help people that are not - are less fortunate than they are. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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