Food Banks Feeling the Strain of COVID-19 Pandemic as Food Insecurity Rises

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn have been felt in every state across the country. While unemployment benefits and stimulus checks are being vigorously debated in Washington, D.C., the nation’s food security challenges continue to worsen as more and more Americans are left wondering about their next meal.

Food banks and private sector donors worked countless hours last year to provide the food needed by those who have lost their jobs or have been forced to stay home as a result of school closures. Indeed, those closures had enormous impacts on the availability of school meals for children in need and replacement efforts rolled out all too slowly. Today, the increasing number of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, as well as continued job losses driven in part by the end of seasonal employment, will only further exacerbate the hunger crisis.

Although Congress has taken action to expand and increase nutrition assistance for Americans, more needs to be done to support the American people, including through private sector partners that are ready, willing and able to help greatly streamline and enhance the delivery of critical support..

As we have noted in previous blog posts, food banks across the country have spoken out in support of CAMI’s efforts to remove the barriers that prohibit state and county SNAP programs from using food banks and other private entities from assisting in certifying needy families for SNAP benefits. These organizations are on the frontlines, helping millions of families across the country as the nation fights to meet the unprecedented challenges driven by the rise in food stamp applications. Giving them additional flexibility to further assist their fellow citizens during this continuing crisis is not only common sense; it’s the right thing to do.

The new Congress must take this and other action without delay so that needed assistance is delivered to American families as quickly and effectively as possible. There’s no time to waste.

The stories of many food banks have been noted in the press, highlighting stories of unprecedented demand and need.

In Massachusetts:

“More than 50 million people living in America, including 17 million children, are likely to experience food insecurity by the end of the year, according to Feeding America, the country’s largest anti-hunger organization. That amounts to 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 children — an increase of nearly 50 percent over last year…Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank, said that in her 40 years of working in food banks, the need has never been greater.”

– “Food banks sound alarm on child hunger as Covid crisis drags on.” NBC News, December 27, 2020.

In New Jersey:

“The pandemic has increased the number of ‘food insecure’ New Jerseyans — those who don’t have consistent access to healthy food — by 56% from pre-pandemic levels to 1.2 million or 13.5% of the population, according to a report issued in September by CFBNJ. The proportion exceeded the national rate, and that in neighboring states, because of New Jersey’s heavy reliance on the hospitality and restaurant industries, which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.

At Catholic Charities, which operates food pantries in Franklin, Dover and Paterson, the number of people served has tripled to about 22,000 a month from its level in January and February before the pandemic hit, said Carlos Roldan, director of the organization’s food-distribution operation. With a holiday-season surge in food demand, and the current jump in COVID-19 infections, Roldan said he wouldn’t be surprised if his monthly client total rises further to between 24,000 and 25,000 soon.”

– “Food banks brace for continuing high demand: NJ 2020, the year of COVID-19.” NJ Spotlight, December 24, 2020.

In Georgia:

“With local schools facing limited resources, food banks in Georgia that stepped up to help plug the meals gap have seen a 50% increase in demand since the pandemic started, said Danah Craft, executive director of the nonprofit Georgia Food Bank Association.

Nearly half of Georgians seeking meals from food banks are doing so for the first time in their lives, highlighting how rates of food insecurity in the state have risen 26% for the entire population and 39% for children, Craft said. That increase comes as food banks worry the amount of food provided by the USDA could soon decrease by 50% without more federal emergency relief funding.

‘We know there are kids who are continuing to fall through the cracks,’ Craft said. ‘And our network has not experienced any easing in the demand. We’re still seeing an unrelenting need for food.’”

– “Schools, food banks work to feed students during COVID-19 pandemic.” Rome News-Tribune, December 5, 2020

In Michigan:

“Before the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March, the South Michigan Food Bank in Battle Creek was distributing food to an average of 80 families a week. However, seven months later, in October, they served 500 families.

‘And, the last couple of weeks we’ve been topping 600 families. So, [that’s] dramatically larger,’ said CEO Peter Vogel during a Zoom interview on Monday. ‘Unfortunately we had [vehicles] on our street, Wayne [Road], all the way down the street and around the corner and they were backing up onto Dickman Road.

‘This is our 38th year in existence of this food bank. The record, in terms of most pounds we’ve ever distributed in one year, I think was in 2011 and it was just more than 11,500,000 pounds of food into our eight counties, which is pretty significant,’ Vogel said. ‘We broke that record in October.’

– “Hunger, food insecurity spike as COVID cases continue to rise.” Fox 17, November 30, 2020

In Florida:

“‘The need in South Florida is overwhelming,’ Sari Vatske, Feeding South Florida’s executive vice president, told CNN. ‘It’s more than double what it was pre-Covid. We’ve never seen anything like this, and we’ve been in food banking for 40 years.’

Between March and November, Feeding South Florida provided over 150 million pounds of produce, meat, milk and other food to area residents.…’

We’re nine months into this and we’re still seeing the same scenes that we saw, so long ago,’ Vatske said. ‘It’s heartbreaking.’

– “Hundreds of Floridians line up for free groceries as growing demand, decreasing supply pinches food banks.” CNN, December 21, 2020

In North Dakota:

“The Great Plains Food Bank, which covers North Dakota and western Minnesota, says it has seen a nearly 50 per cent increase in people seeking its help since March, when the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic began to bite. That rise has been particularly pronounced in rural towns like Williston.‘

In the rural economy, if they’re losing hours or have been laid off, there isn’t always somewhere else for them to go and work and get employed very quickly. So they’re really struggling,’ says Melissa Sobolik, the organisation’s president.

What makes the rise in North Dakota so jarring is that the state has historically had low food insecurity. The Red River Valley is nicknamed the ‘breadbasket of America’ for its abundance of wheat farms. That history and tradition has clouded the difficulties faced by many families today.”

– “Rural America’s hidden hunger: Mobile food banks travel for hundreds of miles to reach ‘food deserts’.” The Independent, December 21, 2020.