Supply chain woes cause concern for local nonprofits collecting food, toys for those in need
Fargo-Moorhead organizations are asking donors to give early.
FARGO — Local nonprofits are concerned that interruptions in the food and toy supply chain, as well as other factors that have slowed donations, could present problems for those in need during the holidays.
Still, they are hopeful area donors will step up like they have in the past.
The Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo is 43% down in donated food compared to last year at this time, CEO Melissa Sobolik said Thursday, Nov. 17. It collected 4.75 million pounds of food between July and October compared to 8.36 million during the same time last year, she said.
Great Plains is the largest hunger-relief organization in North Dakota, according to its website. It ships food to pantries across the state.
This year, the shelves of the warehouse are noticeably more empty.
“Quite frankly, we’re a little scared about what the holiday season is going to look like because this is always our busy time,” Sobolik said.
Economists have warned for weeks that backups at U.S. shipping ports have caused lags in the supply chain.
Demand dropped during the coronavirus pandemic last year, and companies had to lay off workers, University of North Dakota Marketing Professor Robert Warren said. Since families weren’t able to celebrate the holidays last year, they are making up for that this year, he said.
That means demand for food and toys have increased, and companies are trying to ramp up production, he said. On top of that, truckers are in short supply.
“The supply chain is broken,” Warren said.
Food companies say they can handle the spike in demand, according to Warren. People just may not be able to get the brands they want.
Concerns over toys also have cropped up. Toys are primarily made in Asia, Warren said, meaning it could take longer to get them through the ports, into the stores and under the Christmas tree.
“Trying to get them over here in a realistic timeframe is a problem,” Warren said.
Another concern is donor fatigue, said Dan Furry, a spokesman for the Salvation Army in North Dakota and Minnesota. People saw communities were hurting last year and wanted to help, he said.
But he said he worries family dollars are not stretching as far as prices for food goes up, translating into less money being available for donations.
“What we are seeing now are some new evolving challenges,” he said in predicting that donations would slide.
Locally, the Salvation Army is trying to get families registered early so the organization knows how many will need gifts, Public Relations and Volunteer Coordinator Kristi Simmons said. This is the second year it is doing toy distribution, she said.
Last year, 840 families registered to receive toys for their children, and similar numbers are expected this year, Simmons said.
Julie Haugen, associate executive director for the YWCA Cass Clay, also said she noticed that donations are lagging this year. The organization offers shelter for women and children escaping violence, homelessness and crisis. As of Nov. 17, it was serving 265 people, half of whom were children.
The YWCA does an annual drive called Unique Boutique that offers gifts to children it serves, but it also provides basic needs products.
Haugen said she is not seeing as many items being donated in terms of toys and even basic needs products. The YWCA needs more toys for teenagers and winter gear, including women’s coats, waterproof gloves and snowpants for children, Haugen said.
“Those we’ve really seen be more difficult to have donated this year than in past years,” she said.
The lack of food donations has forced Great Plains to dip into its funds to buy food and fill the gap, but that has become expensive, Sobolik said. Low supply and higher demand has caused prices to increase this year.
While shopping, the food bank has noticed a 10% to 15% increase in food prices since February. For example, a case of lasagna dinner that cost $12.50 now costs $14.93.
“Our dollars are not stretching as far,” she said. “We are not seeing the same levels of donated food coming in."
It’s a national problem, Sobolik said, since supply is low. Ground beef is usually a staple for Great Plains, but this year the food bank was only able to purchase the meat product recently due to the lack of supply.
Demand for food from Great Plains is slightly down for now, but that will likely increase as the holidays approach, Sobolik said. Eviction moratoriums have ended, people are behind on rent and other government assistance programs have expired or waned, she noted. Those in need may have to spend more money on other things and turn to food banks to help with meals, she said.
The food bank will do everything it can to help, but it will be challenging this year, Sobolik said. People won’t go hungry, but they may get less.
“I think we are going to be in for a very rough couple of months,” she said as she encouraged people to donate food, money or volunteer work.
The sooner that people can donate toys, the better off the Salvation Army will be, Simmons said. The children receiving the gifts live with families who often have to choose between buying gifts or feeding themselves and paying bills. Getting a gift could mean the world to a child, she said.
“If you want to help kids in need, do it soon,” Furry said.
The people in this region are community-oriented, Warren said in predicting there won’t be a major change in how much is donated to local organizations.
In the eight years she has been with the YWCA, she said, there hasn’t been a year where the community has not come through for her organization.
“We hope that folks who are thinking about donating to us will get things in to us as soon as possible,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re able to help bring a little bit of joy and happiness to families that have experienced a lot of trauma.”