Ohio food banks are reporting a surge in demand amid concerns about growing food insecurity and what it may signal for the overall U.S. economy.
"Right now we're running 47% higher in '23 than we did, you know, a year ago," said Matt Habash, CEO of Mid-Ohio Food Collective. "And I thought it would drop after the pandemic."
Serving 20 counties across central Ohio, the organization is one of the largest of its kind in the country, providing 170,000 meals a day to those in need. One of their locations, the Mid-Ohio Market, is set up like a regular grocery store that organizers say is to combat stigma associated with food insecurity.
Kayla Kraig, a mom of five, said she started volunteering there about three months ago. When she told her story to other volunteers, they encouraged her to use the food bank when she needed help putting food on the table.
"They were like, 'You need to shop.' I didn't know that it was like that. I feel like that's the first reaction is, 'I'm embarrassed to ask for help,'" Kayla told ABC News' Alex Presha.
Kayla said she ultimately decided to shop there twice in the last three months, giving her some much-needed breathing room.
"I can rest my shoulders instead of being like, 'Oh my God, what am I going to do this month?'" Kayla said.
The Mid-Ohio Food Collective and its partner agencies had the highest number of people walk through their doors in March — more than 141,000 people, the organization said.
"We had to come to the pantry, and this is life-saving, because I don't know what we would do. It's a game changer," one resident told ABC News.
Habash attributes some of the demand to pandemic federal problems being no longer available, like stimulus checks, child tax credits and emergency food stamp benefits, which ended in March. There's also rising inflation — groceries are 23% more expensive now than they were at the start of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"It doesn't look like there's any end in sight…it scares me to death," Habash said.
In southeast Columbus, Community Kitchen, which provides people in need with a free meal, is also seeing an increase in demand. The organization's president, MJ McCleskey, told ABC News that many of the people coming into the facility have never been there before. The need is so big, they're now looking to open another facility, she said.
Some economists worry what's playing out in Ohio and other parts of the country could be an indicator for the health of the U.S. economy. Mark Partridge, a rural and urban policy expert at Ohio State University, is also alarmed by the trend.
"It's been a long time since we've seen this kind of pressure that you have to go back to the really early 1980s, in the 1970s to see anything like this with really rapid inflation, especially for food prices. And wages are not keeping up with inflation," Partridge told ABC News.
ABC News' Alex Presha and Katie O'Brien contributed to this report.