Riverside, Calif. (CNN) — For 17 years, Ana Duran worked full time as a travel agent. Late last year she lost that job, shortly before seeing the price of eggs rise to $7.99 a dozen and the price of a single avocado rise to $2.99 ​​at her local store. In June, filling up the gas tank cost him $94, up from $50 last year.

Duran receives unemployment benefits and works part-time as a caretaker for a resident in a nursing home. To make ends meet, she has also been selling her own gold jewelry and collecting aluminum cans to recycle for extra money.

He is one of many people doing what they can to get ahead in Riverside, California, which is part of the region known as the Inland Empire, where an annual inflation rate of 9.4% was recorded in May, one of the lowest high in the country. The median inflation rate across all urban areas in the US, as measured by the Labor Department’s consumer price index, was 8.6% in May.

One of the key factors contributing to higher inflation in the Inland Empire is population growth during the pandemic. People moved from big cities to relatively more affordable neighboring counties like Riverside and San Bernardino. This stimulated demand for goods and services in a region where supply has not caught up.

In California, where the average price of gasoline was already the highest in the country, the dramatic increase in the price of food and fuel in the area has caused residents like Duran, along with organizations trying to help residents like her, find new ways to make ends meet.

Cut expenses and find extra money

“I don’t buy chicken anymore. I don’t buy meat anymore. I just eat tuna,” Duran told CNN.

Although the price of gasoline has dropped slightly in the past month, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in Riverside on July 25 was still more than $5.60, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). its acronym in English). The cost of food and gasoline has forced her to cut back. Gone are the trips to the mall to stroll or cool off. She runs errands over the phone, whenever possible, instead of going to a store or another location.

California inflation

After losing her job last year, Ana Durán has been selling her gold jewelry and recycling aluminum cans to make ends meet.

He also started collecting recyclable materials to deliver them for extra money. Duran said he gets a better deal from the recycling center if he drops it off on Sundays. He receives US$1.37 for about a pound of recyclable material, which makes aluminum cans the most valuable as they weigh more than plastic.

Duran has also sold some of the gold jewelry it bought in better times.

“I think about the hard work I did to buy myself something that I deserved, and now other obstacles have come, and I have other priorities,” he said.

Buy discount food close to expiration date

While Duran needs to be close to home to save on fuel costs, Riverside resident Lily Yu doesn’t mind driving her hybrid car 70 miles to Palmdale, California, in search of discount groceries.

A handful of Vallarta Supermarkets chain stores have partnered with Flashfood, an app that offers a list of foods that are close to their expiration date at deep discounts. Although Flashfood has long partnered with grocers in Canada and parts of the United States, the company only made its debut in California in early June.

Yu, a social media content creator, was contacted by Flashfood to become a brand ambassador. Through a sign language interpreter, Yu told CNN that she frequently buys chicken, hummus, bread and other items at 50% off, just because they are close to expiration date.

California inflation

Lily Yu, from Riverside, California, shows off the Flashfood app, which shows food items that are close to their expiration date.

Food that would go to landfill can now be saved and sold to shoppers looking for a bargain, says Flashfood CEO Josh Domingues.

“We have buyers who save $5,000 to $10,000 a year on their purchases. We have stories of people buying coolers to put in their basement because they’re saving a lot of money on things like meat, and they just put it in the fridge,” Dominic said.

In addition to saving money, Yu said the app also helps him reduce food waste.

“There’s not so much food that goes into the trash and landfills. So I can help the climate and save money.”

Food banks depend on neighbors

Every Wednesday morning, Duran goes to Riverside’s Central Community Christian Fellowship to pick up food donated mostly by Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino.

“We get frozen meat and some vegetables. But lately I think it’s been really hard for them,” Duran said.

The food bank’s Inland Empire branch told CNN that in the past year, several grocery store partners have opted out of the drives, or withdrawn their donation pledge due to limitations in their own chain of stores. supply.

This poses a level of uncertainty for the organization, where 90% of the food in its warehouse is typically donated, not purchased.

To fill a possible shortage of donations, Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino launched a project to collect surplus produce from urban farms and residents’ gardens.

California inflation

Volunteers collect produce as part of a harvest project with Feeding America in Jurupa Valley, California.

On a hot Tuesday in July, Feeding America volunteers joined volunteers from the Huerta del Valle community garden in the Jurupa Valley to pick beets, carrots, onions, lettuce and lemongrass from their urban farm.

“With this opportunity to glean, it’s a supplemental option for us to put more produce, more nutritional goods back into the community,” said Annissa Fitch, communications coordinator for Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino. “We understand that there are challenges when it comes to access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and we want to provide an option for families facing hunger.”

Families face biggest increase in food prices in 40 years

All of this comes at a time when rising inflation has reduced many households’ food budgets. In the 12 months ending in June, overall food prices rose 10.4%, the largest annual increase since February 1981, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Joshua Dietrich, who handles distribution for the food bank, said the number of families he has seen in recent months is 25% higher than the same time in 2021.

For residents like Duran, who said he has always been able to provide for his family, food donations are a lifeline.

“Now I’m very limited. I feel like I’m a bit helpless. You feel like you can’t depend on yourself. You have to depend on others to survive,” she said.

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