Duran received unemployment benefits and worked part-time as a carer for a resident in a center for the elderly. To make ends meet, she also sold her own gold jewelry and crushed aluminum cans to recycle and earn money.
One of the main factors contributing to rising inflation in the Inland Empire is population growth during the pandemic. People moved from major cities to neighboring counties that were relatively more affordable, like Riverside and San Bernardino counties. This has boosted demand for goods and services in a region where supply has not quite caught up. In California, where the average price of gasoline was already the highest in the country, the meteoric rise in the price of food and fuel in the region has pushed residents like Duran, as well as organizations seeking to help residents like her, to find new ways to make ends meet.
“I don’t buy chicken anymore. I don’t buy meat anymore. I only eat tuna,” Duran told CNN.
While gas prices have fallen slightly over the past month, the average cost of a gallon of regular gas in Riverside on July 25 was still above $5.60, according to AAA. The cost of groceries and gasoline forced her to cut back on her expenses. No more trips to the mall to take a walk or refresh. She does her shopping by phone, whenever possible, instead of going to a business or elsewhere.
She also started collecting recyclables to give them back for extra money. Duran said she got a better deal from the recycling center by handing it in on Sunday. She receives $1.37 per pound of recyclables, which makes aluminum cans the most valuable because they weigh more than plastic.
Duran also sold some of the gold jewelry she had bought herself in better times.
“I think about the hard work I did to buy myself something I deserved, and now other hurdles have come, and I have other priorities,” she said.
Buy discount food close to expiration date
While Duran has to stay close to home to save on fuel costs, Riverside resident Lily Yu doesn’t hesitate to drive her hybrid car 70 miles from Palmdale, Calif., in search of groceries at discounted price.
A handful of Vallarta Supermarkets have partnered with Flashfood, an app that lists groceries close to their expiration date at a great discount. While Flashfood has long partnered with grocery stores in Canada and parts of the United States, the company didn’t debut in California until early June.
Yu, a social media content creator, was contacted by Flashfood to become a brand ambassador. Through a sign language interpreter, Yu told CNN that she often buys chicken, hummus, bread and other items at 50% off, just because the expiration date is up. in a few days.
Food that would be headed to landfill can now be preserved and sold to shoppers looking for a deal, said Flashfood CEO Josh Domingues.
“We have customers on an annual basis who will save between $5,000 and $10,000 on their grocery bills. We have stories of people buying coolers to put in their basement because they save so much money. money on things like meat, and they just throw it in the cooler,” Domingues said.
While saving money, Yu said the app also helps him reduce food waste.
“There’s not so much food that goes to trash and landfills, so I can contribute to the climate while saving money.”
Food banks depend on neighbors
Every Wednesday morning, Duran goes to Central Community Christian Fellowship in Riverside to pick up groceries donated primarily by Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino.
“We get frozen meat and we get vegetables. But lately I guess it’s been really hard for them,” Duran said.
The food bank’s Inland Empire branch told CNN that over the past year, several partner grocery stores have pulled out of campaigns or removed their donation commitment due to limitations in their own supply chain.
This poses a level of uncertainty for the organization, where 90% of the food in its warehouse is typically donated, not purchased.
To fill potential gaps in donations, Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino has started a gleaning project — collecting surplus produce from city farms and residents’ gardens.
On a hot Tuesday in July, Feeding America volunteers joined volunteers from the Huerta del Valle Community Garden in the Jurupa Valley to pick beets, carrots, onions, lettuce and lemongrass from his farm. urban.
“With this opportunity to glean, it’s an additional option for us to allocate more produce, more nutritious goods to the community,” said Annissa Fitch, communications coordinator for Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino. “We understand that there are challenges when it comes to accessing fresh fruits and vegetables, and we want to provide an option for families facing hunger.”
Families face biggest food price hike in 40 years
All of this comes at a time when rising inflation has squeezed the food budget of many households. For the 12 months ending in June, overall food prices rose 10.4%, the largest annual increase since February 1981, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Joshua Dietrich, who heads food bank distribution, said the number of families he has seen in recent months is 25% higher than the same period in 2021.
For residents like Duran, who said he has always been able to provide for his family, food donations are a lifeline.
“Now I’m very limited. I feel like I’m a bit helpless. You feel like you can’t rely on yourself. You have to depend on others to survive,” she said. declared.