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Midwest Food Bank addresses 2 emergencies: Kentucky floods and rising inflation

Cleanup efforts are underway in eastern Kentucky.
Timothy D. Easley
Cleanup efforts are underway in eastern Kentucky.

Relief efforts remain underway in eastern Kentucky where scores of communities were devastated by last week’s floods. As of Wednesday, the death toll stands at 37 with fears that the number could rise as water levels recede.

Kentucky faces an additional threat this week, as dangerously high temperatures settle over the state. During a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Andy Bashear warned residents working to salvage what they could of their homes to take precautions against the heat. “We’re bringing in water by the truckloads,” Bashear assured Kentuckians. “We’re gonna makes sure we have enough for you.”

Some of that water is coming from central Illinois. Normal-based Midwest Food Bank has so far sent two semi-loads of bottled water to affected areas in Kentucky with plans for more. Michael Hoffman is the procurement and logistics manager for Midwest Food Bank. The organization anticipated a need for clean water, Hoffman said, but were still surprised by how great the need was.

“A semi-load of water — and that’s a lot of water — in one hour, it was pretty much gone,” Hoffman said. Witnessing the scale of desperation, the semi’s volunteer driver returned immediately to Illinois to retrieve another load of bottled water.

Hoffman said many of the affected communities in Kentucky don’t even have the option of boiling water for consumption. They’ve been advised by authorities that the water is too contaminated. “They're just like, don't even touch the water,” Hoffman said.

Kentucky residents also are in need of shelf-stable food, according to Hoffman. Midwest Food Bank has been assembling food boxes that can feed a family for up to five days. The boxes include items like canned vegetables and pasta, and while the food bank is thankful for donations of unused foods, Hoffman said the most effective way to help is by donating money or time.

“We'll do the responding, and we'll do the driving, and we'll get all that down there,” said Hoffman, although volunteers are needed in assembling food boxes at the Morton location.

Hoffman said monetary donations are especially important because of inflation. The cost of fueling trucks alone is incredibly high. And rising costs aren’t just a consideration in disaster relief, he said, adding food pantry operators are reporting a sharp increase traffic over the past few months.

Hoffman feels compelled to dispel the notion that people who visit food pantries are looking for handouts.

“I can tell you that the vast majority are people who work,” he said. “The biggest chunk (of visitors) is the people who are working and just can’t quite make ends meet.”

That’s a situation that has been exacerbated by inflation, as people operating on strict budgets find they have no room in the margins for rising costs. Hoffman said that forces people into difficult choices between essential items like gas and groceries. He especially worries about families who already are struggling and will soon have to foot the cost for back-to-school supplies.

“Something’s gotta give,” Hoffman said.

Sarah Nardi is a correspondent at WGLT. She rejoined the station in 2024.