A worker at the Mid-South Food Bank concentrated on the task at hand on Monday. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Sandra Scruggs, a Memphis grandmother, said Thanksgiving will look different for her family this year. 

Sandra Scruggs (Courtesy photo)

With supply-chain-related food shortages and inflationary prices plaguing the country, Scruggs said she’s limited with what she can buy for a holiday meal.

“I don’t know what we are going to do around these holidays, but a lot of people are like my family and just won’t be able to do Thanksgiving or Christmas because everything is just too expensive,” Scruggs said.

Scruggs, who is the head of her household and the legal guardian of her 13-year-old grandson, knows that her story isn’t exclusive. Many families in Memphis may have to alter their holiday plans due to limited resources – including finances and accessibility. 

Clean Memphis reports that the city has a food insecurity rate of 19 percent, compared to 11 percent nationally. And for seniors like Scruggs, a 2019 study by Feeding America found that Memphis had a 13.7 percent senior food insecurity rate, making it the highest in the nation. 

“This holiday, with the food prices and the lack of food in our area, it’s hard on families like mine,” Scruggs said. 

The grandmother relies on one income, her disability check, to put food on the table for her family. But with food prices rising, she said she may have to look for part-time employment, despite her doctor’s orders. 

Scruggs lives in Frayser, one of the city’s most poverty-stricken areas. Most of Frayser is in the 38127 ZIP code, where 38.3 percent of residents have incomes below the poverty level, according to City-Data.com. 

Frayser has long been considered a food desert, providing limited options for healthy, affordable food, but Scruggs said the problem has been exacerbated by rising prices during the pandemic. 

Nationally, food prices rose 4.6 percent since September 2020, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the increasing shortage of food supply due to labor issues is heightened nationwide in areas such as Frayser that already were experiencing limited resources.

“It’s so discouraging to go to the grocery stores in our community. There is nothing on the shelves. And what’s on their many times is expired,” Scruggs pointed out.

She said in the past she would occasionally travel to stores outside of the area in hopes of having more variety, but lately that has been difficult.

“Going to the grocery store has become an all-day job,” Scruggs said. “And with gas prices and everything else going on, I just can’t do it.”

Mid-South Food Bank representatives echo Scruggs’ story with data.  

Their reports show that there has been a 44 percent increase in food insecurity in Memphis since this time last year. 

And while the food bank has distributed more than 31 million pounds of food since June 2020, representatives said there still are more people in need, especially seniors. 

Fred Ashwill (Courtesy photo)

It’s the reason Fred Ashwill, public policy/advocacy officer for the Food Bank, said they’re planning to bring the city’s delegation together to discuss solutions. 

The organization will host the first Delegation Luncheon, Dec. 7. Ashwill said he hopes it will be the first of several meetings to springboard change when it comes to food insecurity in Memphis.

“There is a lot of conversation affecting families of poverty, but when you get down the road with it, there is not a concerted effort to address or alleviate these issues,” Ashwill said. “We hope to get the delegation together to determine the right people we should include to impact change.”

Candidly, Ashwill said the county should be ashamed that such a large number of seniors, like Scruggs, are struggling with food insecurity. 

“These people have been working all of their lives – built our roads, fought for our country. They are our grandparents, and we can’t continue to let them down. This is a travesty,” Ashwill said.

Scruggs noted there are plenty more seniors in her area with stories similar to hers, heads of their households with limited resources and failing health.

“I’m a diabetic but I find myself having to eat things I am not supposed to eat because everything is so high, and there is a shortage of everything,” Scruggs said. “I have to get what I can get for me and my family. And I know other families like ours. On poor people like me and my family it’s horrible.”

Scruggs said despite the grim outlook, she plans to do what she can to ensure her family has a meal on the table for the holidays.

“I’ll just have to get creative and make adjustments. Maybe we won’t have a turkey and will have to do Cornish hens. I’m not sure, but we will just have to figure it out and hope for the best.”