SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This summer it’s not just temperatures that are rising: Food costs and gas prices are impacting South Dakota families who are struggling to put food on the table.

While low-income South Dakotans are the most impacted by rising inflation, all working families and individuals are feeling the strain on their wallets over the last few months. In fact, food pantries across the state are seeing a surge in visitors that have never used a food pantry before.

“We tell them that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody has some hard times and everybody’s struggling financially with inflation and everything,” Contact Center Executive Director Troy Thurman said.

Troy Thurman is the Executive Director for the Contact Center in Yankton, South Dakota. He told KELOLAND News that while they sometimes see an increased need during the summer months when kids are out of school, this summer is like nothing he’s ever seen.

“They’re coming in more frequently than before; like people that are coming in once a month are coming in twice, three times a month,” Thurman said. “We have seen a double, or a double increase in our new [visitors] the last two months. It’s doubled each month as far as new clients coming in, just to get services.”

The increased need is also being felt at the Vermillion Food Pantry.

Katy Beem, Executive Director of the Vermillion Food Pantry, said they have seen a surge in need in the last three months especially.

“In May, and June of this year, we have served 623 households, that’s twice as many as in May and June of 2021,” Beem said. “Yeah, last year, in total, we served approximately 2,000 households. And as of the end of June this year, we’ve already served over 1,500 households already.”

Like Yankton, Vermillion is seeing a mix of new and regular guests to the pantry. Beem said that they’ve seen an increase in working families who have two full-time workers in the household and are still struggling. 

“We’re seeing a concerning number of young families with very young children and infants who are homeless or living in campers or tents at campsites. And this includes families with a parent who works full time,” Beem said.

Not only are visitors to the food pantry being impacted by inflation, but the pantries themselves are feeling the effects of increasing food prices.

“We buy a lot of our food,” Thurman said. “So, we’ve seen a massive increase in our costs, which has, you know, kind of made a struggle, a little financial because we’re a non-profit.”

In Vermillion, Beem explained that partnerships with Hy-Vee, Walmart, local convenience stores, and Feeding South Dakota help them buy food at a reduced cost but it’s still hard to keep the pantry full.

Rising gas prices are a contributing factor to the increased need for food according to Beem and Thurman.

“And, you know, folks will tell us, the people who are using the food pantry will tell us that it was, you know, either food or gas or food or rent., right? And that’s why they’re here,” Beem said.

In Yankton, the Emergency Assistance Office helps residents pay bills and provides gas money but with the ever-rising costs, Thurman said it’s hard to keep up.

“Yeah, the gas prices have affected it in a lot of ways, different ways, like people getting here, people needing gas, people out of gas, getting to work,” Thurman explained. “So, people can’t make it to work. They’re getting laid off or fired, because they can’t get to work, and then they come in.”

Beem added that people from all walks of life are visiting the food pantry including veterans, working people, and elders.

“Everyone is feeling the pinch. And so, if there are people who are not feeling as pinched, we could certainly use– others could certainly use you know, a leg up,” Beem said.

The Vermillion Food Pantry is open five days a week with varied hours. While they take both food and monetary donations, Beem said that the latter is best as the pantry can use the donations to purchase more food at reduced costs.

You can donate to the Vermillion Food Pantry here.

The Contact Center in Yankton is open Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also accept financial donations which can be brought or mailed directly to 321 W 3rd Street, Suite B02, Yankton, SD.

To visit the Contact Center, you just need to bring identification and a piece of mail that shows you live in Yankton County.