Three years into the COVID pandemic, the resulting hunger crisis rages on
With the third anniversary of the Covid-19 outbreak, the secondary pandemic of hunger is still looming for many Americans. According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 34 million people in the United States live in food-insecure households.
It’s a number that only scratches the surface according to Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of food bank network Feeding America. “The nuance is that some people are not ‘food insecure’ because they have access to the charity food system. This does not mean that they are able to achieve self-sufficiency. According to Feeding America, in 2020, as the pandemic took hold, 60 million people — nearly one in 6 Americans — turned to the charity food system for help.
With the recent end of SNAP emergency benefits, rising food prices and a potential recession, the situation could get worse.
“Every county, every parish across the United States has its own unique food insecurity challenges,” Babineaux-Fontenot says, but points out that communities of color are particularly hurting. According to Feeding America, 1 in 5 Black and Native Americans suffer from food insecurity.
Since emergency SNAP benefits expired, the rural south has been hit hard.
Benefits expired in May 2022 for Georgia residents, and Babineaux-Fontenot says her network of food banks is already seeing the impact.
“The Atlanta Community Food Bank has reported a 40% increase in demand since the additional benefits expired.”
Feeding America strives to keep up.
“We have fewer donations, federal proceeds have been significantly reduced, and we have less money across our network, as we see fewer and fewer donations from the public at a time when people still need help. .”
“The line was even longer yesterday,” said Tarence Wheeler, director of community affairs for the River Rouge School District, the day after SNAP emergency benefits ended. The district is located about fifteen kilometers from Detroit.
“It’s the working poor, the person who makes too much money to get help, but not enough to survive.”
The district has partnered with local food relief charity Forgotten Harvest to launch a mobile food drive, where every Wednesday anyone can pick up groceries, no questions asked.
The idea for the food drive came when in-person classes were initially suspended for Covid in the spring of 2020. Wheeler and District Superintendent Dr. Derrick Coleman began delivering meals to some of the student homes for what they called “We Love You Fridays” in hopes of keeping students engaged in the district. had entire families who didn’t have enough to eat.
“I said ‘we need to do more,’” he explained in an interview with CNN.
Now, every Wednesday morning, rain, shine or snow, Wheeler and his army of volunteers gather at the Ann Visger Preparatory Academy to put food into the hands of those who need. Wheeler says that, on average, about 300 cars line up at 5 a.m. to pick up goods from the pantry each week. People come from as far away as Toledo, Ohio, and those without transportation show up with carts, suitcases, laundry carts, and even wheelchairs to fill with groceries for the week.
“Our job is to empty those palettes without judgment, with compassion and empathy.”
The group has distributed more than 10 million meals over the past three years. Additionally, the program has also expanded to include personal hygiene products, clothing, blisters, and even pet food.
Wheeler calls the project “The Pantry of Hope”. It is the lack of hope that he fears most.
“When you’re desperate and impatient, you’re dangerous,” Wheeler explained. “We don’t want people to feel like they have to do anything outside of character to feed their families.”
State and federal agencies have significant resources for people in need of food.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates a National Hunger Hotline to connect people to local food resources such as catering sites and food banks. You can reach them by calling their toll-free number 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (Spanish) to speak with a representative. You can also text 97779 with a question containing a keyword such as “food” or “meal”, and the automated response will provide resources near your address or postcode.
The USDA also operates an interactive map called Meals for Kids Site Finder to help parents easily find nearby eating sites. The web app allows users to enter an address, city, state, or zip code to find up to 50 nearby locations along with hours of operation.
WIC (Women and Infant Children) programs provide healthy, complementary foods to low-income people who are pregnant and have children 5 and under. Find out if you are eligible and contact your national WIC agency to apply.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps, is a federal food assistance program for low-income and no-income people.
A Covid-related SNAP emergency grant ends, affecting millions. But the regular SNAP program continues. The USDA encourages participants with questions to contact their local SNAP office.
You can find out if you are eligible for SNAP here. You can also contact your local food bank here for help with your request.
TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) helps low-income families with children. TANF benefits may vary from state to state, but generally provide monthly cash assistance payments to eligible households.
Feeding America has a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in every county in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Due to the pandemic, the nonprofit organization and its affiliates have various contactless options available in many areas. These include seniors-only hours, drive-through pantries and expanded home delivery services. Type your zip code or state into the food bank locator to find a location near you.
FoodFinder is a mobile and web app that helps food-insecure families with children find free food assistance programs near them.
Foodpantries.org has a national database of nonprofit subsidized food pantries and grocery resources.
Sustainable America created the Food Rescue Locator to help people connect with groups that rescue, prepare, and distribute food that would otherwise go to waste.
The Little Free Pantry movement is a grassroots initiative. Community members stock small pantries with canned goods, canned goods and other foods for use by passers-by in need. Use their interactive map to find locations.
Meals on Wheels helps people with limited mobility who are generally 60 years of age and older, although age requirements vary. You can find a supplier here by typing in your postal code.
The Salvation Army operates both a food pantry and various in-person and mobile meal programs across the country. Click here, type in your postcode and select emergency services to find out what they can provide in your area.
WhyHunger has launched a crowdsourced map to connect individuals with free lunch sites in the US and select communities around the world.
SNAP-ed and EFNEP (Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program) are just two of many community education services that help people develop budgeting and resource management skills to alleviate food insecurity.
“We want to facilitate discussions to see what small barriers we can help people overcome,” says Kristi Evans of Michigan State University’s Institute of Health and Nutrition. Evans and his staff help implement these government educational programs in the community.
“We’re here to empower residents to make healthier choices and see in their community and their homes what they can do, because we all know they are the experts in their own lives.”
Michigan State University Extension also implements programs such as Cooking Matters, run by Sharing our Strength. Participants learn about cooking, grocery shopping, budgeting and nutrition. Grocery store tours help participants learn key shopping skills, such as reading food labels, comparing unit prices, and ways to save on the cost of products. Click here to connect with a local partner to register.
MSU also provides an online toolkit to help SNAP recipients budget their food benefit dollars, which includes an interactive budgeting spreadsheet and planning calendar to help reduce food waste.
- Volunteering: As a volunteer, you can play a key role in supporting hunger relief efforts. Look for volunteer opportunities at your local food bank or community kitchen. By volunteering locally, you support families and individuals so they can use their money to pay bills and other expenses.
- Donate: Impact Your World has compiled a list of nonprofit organizations around the world that are helping to address the hunger crisis. Your donation to any of these organizations will go directly to support these efforts.
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