food bank
Food pantries and soup kitchens are struggling to provide holiday meals to families in need this season, citing food shortages amid an increase in demand and product costs. (Shutterstock photo)

Capuchin Soup Kitchen this week kicked off its Thanksgiving food distribution to families in need, and it was a struggle for the east side organization to provide enough turkey, canned collards, and chunk white chicken. 

In Detroit, meeting resident demand for food over the holidays is especially challenging this year. Food pantries and distribution centers are experiencing shortages as demand and food costs are higher. According to the U.S. Farm Bureau, Thanksgiving dinner will cost 20% more this year, with increased prices for everything from turkey to pumpkin. Detroit’s food insecurity rates are also on the rise, with a 3% increase for 2020-2021, compared to the previous year. And, a program that doubled federal food assistance dollars, up to $20 a day when spent on produce, is on pause through the end of the year at all grocery stores in the state of Michigan. 

“We are seeing an uptick in people coming to the food pantry for help,” said Gary Wegner, executive director of Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which expects to serve about 1,300 Detroit families between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“There was a challenge with being able to secure turkeys this year,” he said. The food pantry has also experienced delays in shipments of food as of late. Before, it would take a few days for items to arrive. Now, Wegner said, “sometimes they don’t come for a week, two or three weeks.” 

In 2020 and 2021 there was significant state and federal pandemic related funding for food assistance. But much of it has since ended, said Amy Kuras, research and policy program manager at the Detroit Food Policy Council. 

“Families not actively facing food insecurity might find it harder to put a meal on the table because food prices are much higher and many stores are not offering the kind of sales and discounts they did in the past,” Kuras said. 

Universal free school meals ended at the beginning of this year, after Congress voted not to extend the program created in 2020. Additionally, a pre-pandemic program that doubled food stamp dollars when spent on produce has been suspended through the end of the year. The Double Up Food Bucks program is paused at all grocery stores until January due to a record number of participants and a need to “stay within budget,” according to the program’s website. 

Double Up Food Bucks can still be used at farmers markets, however. Additionally, increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have stayed. Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that all families receiving SNAP will get an additional $95 this month on their Bridge Card to help lower the cost of groceries for Thanksgiving. 

For a more affordable holiday meal, some experts recommend swapping out foods, like chicken instead of turkey, or going plant-based altogether.

Christian Harper, a spokesperson for Focus: HOPE, a Detroit nonprofit that distributes food to 41,000 seniors a month, told BridgeDetroit that because the organization is government funded its food aid program and the clients at Focus: HOPE haven’t been impacted by food inflation and shortages. 

“We’ve been able to continue to distribute boxes monthly and have room to add seniors to our program,” Harper said. Eligibility and the application is available by calling (313) 494-4600 or emailing

Forgotten Harvest, a Metro Detroit organization that distributes food that otherwise would have gone to waste, typically sees a 20% increase in demand during the holiday season, said Kirk Mayes, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer. 

“This is the first year Forgotten Harvest didn’t purchase any additional turkeys for Thanksgiving,” Mayes said, due to the high cost. In the last year, the cost of a 16-pound turkey has gone up nearly $5. 

“It’s harder to get them and they’re more expensive,” Mayes said, “it just didn’t make sense for us.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that comments about Capuchin Soup Kitchen were provided by Gary Wegner, Capuchin’s executive director.

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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