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High gas prices impact nonprofits

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Alexander Nguyen
Gas prices are displayed at a Shell station in San Diego's Mid-City neighborhood on Feb. 21, 2022.

Prices at the pump are breaking records in San Diego County. The average price per gallon here on Tuesday was $4.74, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

Everyone is feeling the pinch when they pump, including nonprofits whose work requires them to get behind the wheel.

“Because of the fact that we and our volunteers are everyday going over the entire county to deliver meals to anywhere from 1,900 to 2,100 seniors, gas costs mean a lot to our business,” said Brent Wakefield, CEO of Meals on Wheels San Diego.

High gas prices impact nonprofits

Wakefield said many seniors relied on the food deliveries and wellness checks from the organization's volunteers, who dedicate their time and wallets — because they are responsible for their own gas.

“Seven hundred and six thousand miles that our volunteers have driven in the last year to deliver those meals. And our volunteers do all this out of the goodness of their heart. So not only are they giving their time and they're doting over the seniors and spending time with them and having a conversation, but they're actually paying for their own gas bill," Wakefield said. "So for them this has been a big impact.”

Without volunteers, Wakefield said, Meals on Wheels would need an additional $3.5 million annually to ensure meal deliveries.

He fears that the rising gas prices will drive away volunteers, many of whom are seniors themselves. “Seventy percent of them in fact are on a fixed income, meaning they are retired. And gas prices, when they go up, it means this is a burden to them,” he said.

Wakefield said Meals on Wheels got some relief when donations come in the form of gas cards that the organization is able to give to volunteers.

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Mama’s Kitchen is another nonprofit organization delivering medically tailored meals to people experiencing an illness.

Alberto Cortes, the organization's CEO, said Mama's Kitchen was already seeing an impact on volunteers because of gas prices.

“We're certainly seeing a diminished consistency in delivery drivers ... with folks that might've been doing a delivery once a week or twice a week, may now be doing it once every other week," Cortes said.

He said Mama's Kitchen was also seeing an increase in food prices, which he attributes to higher gas prices. “The food costs increase that we're seeing are not just because of food chain challenges," he said. "There is a direct impact that fuel prices have on the cost of food.”

Mama's Kitchen is brainstorming different ways to retain drivers to uphold its mission.

Condensed routes and mileage reimbursements are some ideas that the organization is reviewing.

“Whatever is happening out there, we are absolutely committed to making sure that the people that are depending on us for food receive their food,” Cortes said.