Supermarket pain

Robin Edwards shops at Save-A-Lot in West Ashley. Edwards has changed some of her shopping habits, including buying frozen vegetables such as broccoli instead of fresh because of the price difference.

Food prices are soaring, the economic outlook is bleak, and Robin Edwards is without a job.

Now more than ever, she has to make smart choices with her grocery budget.

Frozen instead of fresh broccoli, chicken thighs instead of breasts, a half-gallon of milk instead of a gallon are some of the changes she has made.

On Friday, she lost her job as an assembly production worker at Summerville-based emergency vehicle-maker American LaFrance, a position she held for three months. She is contacting temp services looking for employment, and hopes she is called back to her job soon. She has filed for unemployment.

"I'm a single parent, and it hits hard. The prices are so high," she said Wednesday at the Save-A-Lot Food Store on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.

Fresh government figures show that inflation shot up in June at the second-fastest pace in 26 years, with two-thirds of the surge blamed on soaring energy prices. And it's taking a nasty bite out of peoples' budgets. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that consumer prices jumped 1.1 percent last month, much worse than had been expected.

While shopping at the Food Lion on S.C. Highway 61, Joanna Royster said she feeds three kids and two adults on $530 per month in food stamps. Her extended family also helps. Her husband, a route salesman, is hospitalized with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Disability payments are coming, but approval is slow. She misses fresh produce. "I end up buying frozen vegetables on sale," she said.

On Wednesday, Royster had fresh carrots in her cart, but that was a special treat. Her kids are ages 4, 11 and 15. "With school being out, they're eating me out of house and home, so it's particularly hard right now," she said. She is more of a coupon clipper and bargain hunter now. She stopped going to Wal-Mart Super Center in West Ashley for groceries because of gas prices. She stresses conservation to her children. Don't waste food and bathroom products, she tells them. "It's trying times right now," she said.

Energy prices rocketed upward by 6.6 percent, reflecting big increases for gasoline, home heating oil and natural gas. Food prices showed a big increase in June, rising by 0.7 percent, more than double the 0.3 percent increase of May. Vegetable prices shot up by 6.1 percent, the biggest increase in nearly three years, the AP reported.

Also, at the S.C. Highway 61 Food Lion, Johnnie Mae Moore bemoaned a 5-pound bag of potatoes for $4.49 that used to cost $2.99. "The food prices have gotten really ridiculous," said Keith Foster, 37, her son. "Most of my paycheck goes to groceries and gas," Foster said. He is a stockroom manager.

East Bay Street Harris Teeter shopper Muriel Bellow, a senior living on a fixed income, said she has quit buying Idaho baking potatoes, melons, peaches and bananas. Fresh broccoli is out. She cut her charitable donations to groups such as Amnesty International because of food and gas prices.

"Everything is so expensive. Now I'm back to looking at prices, and let me tell you, I resent it. They're absolutely astonishing," she said.

On Folly Road, Tommy and Kat Lopez were holding a garage sale Wednesday. The profit would go to gas and bills. "We are moving, but it's really hot and we probably wouldn't do this if we weren't hurting for money," Kat Lopez said. Tuesday marked the Lopezes' third week selling off trinkets and appliances, with prices reflecting demand: They're down to $10 for a carload and $20 for a truckload.

James Island resident Jenny Brown said her family traded its aging, energy-inefficient dryer for a clothesline to keep the electric bill down this summer. She also decided to try out cloth diapers with her 3-week-old daughter. Instead of shelling out $12 a week for a pack of the throw-away product, she invested $200 for a full year's supply of the washable variety. "Plus, this is good for the environment," Brown said.

James Island resident Marian Wigfall said she feels the pinch but hasn't made any changes to her routine. "I've been retired since '84, and I'm still living and still eating," she said. "But for young people, it's a big deal." A self-described evangelist, she said, "I depend on Jesus."

At the Piggly Wiggly off U.S. Highway 78 in Ladson, Robert Leedy of Summerville said he isn't one to check many prices. He goes in and grabs what he needs and leaves. "There's nothing to cope with. You just have deal with it," he said.

Jeanette Hardage of North Charleston tries to watch for advertised sales and clips coupons as much as possible. Lately, she's been shocked at the cost of milk. Santiago Myrian of Summerville is also feeling the pinch. She does not work and purchases groceries with $200 a month in food stamps. Myrian has cut her normal grocery list in half and tells her granddaughter to pick one thing at the store. "It's hard, especially for people who are not working," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen, but everything has changed."