As of 2015, there are over fifteen thousand food pantries in America. In 2013, one in six Americans, over fifty million people, experienced hunger. Most of these pantries and kitchens rely entirely on volunteers to manage the food bank lines. More than seventy percent of them feel as though they are unable to adequately meet the needs of their communities .
While these statistics may be disconcerting, they are nothing compared to the sudden need that has been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, the unemployment rate has reached a level that has not been seen since the Great Depression, and the country’s food banks are feeling the pressure . Images of food bank lines stretching for miles have now taken over the internet, and they are a sobering illustration of the devastating economic fallout of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
More People are Relying on Food Banks than Ever Before
Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, one of the country’s largest hunger-relief organizations, recently told NBC News in mid-April that they were expecting an increase of 17.1 million people over the next six months who will need their services, noting that there had already been a 91 percent increase in demand for free food .
Food distribution points in San Antonio, Texas, are getting lines of up to ten thousand cars, and the number of people they feed every week has doubled from sixty thousand to 120 thousand. The numbers in Phoenix, Arizona, have tripled, and demand in Las Vegas has increased by thirty percent, despite the fact that 170 out of 180 food pantry distribution points in the state have closed .
“[I’ve] been in this business over 30 years, and nothing compares to what we’re seeing now,” said Sheila Christopher, director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania .
San Antonio Food Bank President Eric Cooper said that the city already had a significant need before the pandemic hit.
“Our city struggled before Covid — many … families [are] living on the edge — and Covid knocked them over the edge,” .
The Challenge for Food Banks
Leslie Bacho, CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, explains that the dramatic increase has been incredibly challenging for food banks, and that half the people who are showing up at their distribution centers have never used their services before .
These organizations are dependent on volunteers, many of whom are over the age of sixty. Under lockdown regulations, however, they are having difficulty finding enough people to staff their locations and support the drastic increase in need. To make matters worse, Feeding America has reported that they have received a 64 percent decrease in donations .
While there are government food assistance programs available, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), there are many Americans who are either ineligible, or are relying on food banks to supplement the support that they are receiving.
Andy Fisher, a food security expert and author of Big Hunger, refers to food banks as “the safety net under the safety net” .
How Can You Help?
Feeding America has launched the COVID-19 Response Fund, which is a national food and fundraising effort to support food banks and the people who use them all across the country . To support the initiative, you can donate to the Feeding America program, or you can find your local food bank and donate directly to them.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our economy and leave people jobless, food banks are going to need your support more and more to ensure that families across the country are able to survive and receive the nutrition they need.
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