GoFundMe fundraisers for groceries, baby formula, and gas are soaring

A year ago many Americans relied on stimulus checks and enhanced jobless benefits to pay for groceries. Now it’s the kindness of strangers.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photo: Getty Images

· 4 min read

A grandmother in Arizona asks for donations for groceries for six “beautiful munchkins”—her grandchildren—because her daughter and son-in-law are struggling to pay grocery bills. Someone in New York City needs donations, too, for a baby formula bank to help parents “in desperate need due to this insane shortage.” And another good egg in North Carolina is looking for donations to buy pet food for nearby animal shelters.

They’re all GoFundMe fundraisers, and they’re part of a spike in appeals for necessities. GoFundMe compared US-based fundraisers from May 18 to July 18 to the same period in 2021:

  • Fundraisers for groceries rose about 30%. (Here and below, this means the title or description of the appeal had “groceries” or related words like “grocery shopping,” categories defined by GoFundMe.)
  • Fundraisers for baby formula rose 700%.
  • Fundraisers for gasoline rose more than 150%.
  • Fundraisers for animal shelters and humane societies rose more than 25%.

A friend in need. “It’s shortages, it’s inflation, it’s the inability of people to meet…what their desires and needs are with the resources that they have,” Margaret Richardson, GoFundMe’s chief corporate affairs officer, told us. “It is a confluence of events around probably supply chain and inflation that are leading these things to be of need.”

GoFundMe declined to provide the raw data on which the percentage increases are based, or the total amount that has been raised for items like groceries or baby formula through its fundraisers. But for the first six months of the pandemic, when the platform was swarmed with pleas, it opened its books a bit wider.

  • For pandemic-related fundraisers, over $625 million was raised through over 9 million donations from March 1 and August 31, 2020, GoFundMe reported.
  • 59.6% of the fundraisers were to help small businesses and the unemployed, followed by 19.4% for school supplies for remote learning and “artist relief,” and 9% for funding items like PPE for frontline workers, according to the report.

Stimu-less. While inflation and high gas and rent prices surely are factors to the surge in fundraisers, another factor is what’s missing: stimulus relief.

During last spring and early summer, against which GoFundMe is comparing this year’s fundraisers, federal Covid-relief efforts funded by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act were either current or recent.

  • Advanced Child Tax Credit payments began on July 15, 2021, paying up to $300 per child monthly, with 216.8 million payments totalling $93.5 billion. The program ended at the end of the year.
  • In March 2020, the federal government began adding $600 weekly to state unemployment benefits, which was subsequently lowered to $300 before the payments ended in September 2021.
  • Three rounds of stimulus checks began on March 27, 2020 and ended on March 11, 2021.
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Walmart, Target, and Best Buy were among the retailers who reported increased revenues from the stimulus payments, and the absence of such payments this year was noted at recent earnings calls.

Brian Cornell, Target’s CEO and chairman, explained during the company’s Q1 earnings call on May 18 why categories like apparel and home that boomed during the pandemic were down for the quarter compared to 2021.

“While we anticipated a post-stimulus slowdown in these categories, and we expect the consumers to continue refocusing their spending away from goods and services, we didn’t anticipate the magnitude of that shift,” Cornell said.

At its Q1 call on May 17, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon spoke of the twin challenges of inflation and no stimulus checks this year to ease it.

“Not all of them can afford to absorb this,” McMillon said. “[A]re we helping a [family] that’s at the lower end of the income scale be able to afford to feed their families during this inflationary time? And given that stimulus checks happened last year, there was some benefit to some of those folks that is eroding over time.”

With those stimulus checks long gone, more people are relying on the kindness of strangers, and some of them, of course, are spending those donations at Walmart.

Hungry heart. Like one woman in Dallas, who needed help with groceries to feed her kids. She set a fundraising goal on GoFundMe of $200. Nine donors gave from $7 to $100. Total raised: $322.

She wrote on the funding site in late July that the donations were starting to appear in her bank account.

“I will be able to order food through Walmart tomorrow morning,” she wrote.

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