Another Coronavirus Casualty – America’s Food Banks
Back in November I let you know that American food banks and pantries were having difficulties.
Throughout 2020, the coronavirus resulted in much lower supplies for these food providers. The virus led to unemployment and small business collapses. Millions of Americans went hungry for the first time.
From March to November 2020, Americans experiencing food insecurity rose from 18 million to 22.3 million.
Many hungry Americans were depending on food banks for their holiday meals. Some food banks provided that for them. But that pretty much wiped out their supplies.
Greater Need, Fewer Donations
The single biggest food problem now is that more people need assistance than ever before.
A close second is that many people and businesses that previously donated to food banks no longer do so.
Another issue is that the number of food bank volunteers has dwindled. Some volunteers are concerned about exposure to the virus. Especially older ones.
As if that weren’t enough, food prices keep rising. Nonprofit groups can’t buy as much of increasingly expensive food as before.
Pandemic Intensifies Problem
Prices are also rising for other items food banks depend on. Including electricity, cleaning materials and boxes. Even food transportation costs are going up.
The food stamp program (SNAP) has also experienced shortfalls. That has caused more people than ever before to seek out food banks.
And while this is going on, untold millions of tons of food are being wasted. Due to people allowing food to expire or not consuming leftovers.
Ellen Vollinger is legal director at the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center. She said this. “It’s not surprising to see so many ‘new needy.’ Even before the pandemic, millions of working Americans were living on the edge of poverty.”
Feeding America Pitches In
America’s food issue was actually improving slightly in 2019. But when the pandemic hit our shores, the need grew while food suppliers became fewer.
Some organizations are doing what they can with what they have to try to solve this problem.
Among them is Feeding America and its network of 200 food banks. As of late 2020, they were feeding 46 million people.
Feeding America’s first priority is this. Distributing food to children, seniors and families in need.
Food Deficit Is Huge
Food banks in this nonprofit organization’s network also offer:
- Community-specific programs that respond to the changing needs of people they serve.
- Programs that help families manage the relationship between food and wellness.
- Programs that help families and households identify food-related ways to keep children healthy.
- Ways to help families and households create and follow a food budget. Or find government programs.
But still, organization officials fear a deficit of more than 10 billion lbs of food by June. And they project that at least 17 million American children will experience food insecurity this year.
Children in Crisis
An example of this growing problem is playing out in Norfolk County, Massachusetts. According to Feeding America, the county has had a 168 percent rise in child hunger since 2018.
Pam Denholm is executive director of the Weymouth Food Pantry located there. She said, “The demand has increased dramatically. All across America, we have these middle-class communities that are being deeply affected.”
At the nearby Medway Village Church Pantry, the situation is similar. “We have seen so many new families coming in,” said director Susan Dietrich.
“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve seen throughout this pandemic are the families that come and bring their children. Mom’s struggling… She’s trying to make sure she can continue to put food on the table. That’s something that really hits you.”
‘Imagine What We Could Do’
Dietrich believes it’s possible to end food insecurity in America. But she said it will take a concerted effort.
“We just found a vaccine for a novel coronavirus in less than one year because the entire world was working toward one purpose,” she said.
“Imagine what we could do if the world got together and said, ‘We need to end food insecurity.’”
Will Government Program Continue?
A government food program also proved successful in 2020. It took a bite out of the food insecurity problem for many people.
It was part of the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. The Agriculture Department set up partnerships between food banks and food distributors.
Boxes packed with fresh produce, dairy and meat were distributed to food banks. That was from April through December. More than 110 million boxes nationwide were handed out.
A spokesperson from the department said this. “We are evaluating all funding opportunities for food purchases.” In other words, the program may or may not continue in 2021.
Brian Barks is CEO of Food Bank for the Heartland in Nebraska. He said this. “I really hope our leaders in Washington will look at this program and the benefit that was brought by it. And consider moving it forward.”
Getting – Or Giving – Help
There may not be enough food available for everyone. But there is some. Those needing food assistance should contact local food banks, pantries or soup kitchens.
Other options are local churches, faith-based groups and the Salvation Army. Those who are disabled or seniors can register for Meals on Wheels.
And those who have been blessed with more than enough should look for ways to provide for those in need. It’s the right thing to do.