Story at a glance
- The coronavirus could result in an estimated additional 17.1 million people experiencing food insecurity, an increase of 46 percent.
- Many donations to food banks are down as a result of the pandemic.
- "We don't know how long we can sustain at this pace," warns one food bank worker.
The 200 food banks in the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, the nonprofit Feeding America, along with many other food banks across the country are scrambling to keep up with a skyrocketing demand for food due to expansive job losses from businesses shuttering due to COVID-19.
With 37 million people in the U.S. already struggling with food insecurity before the pandemic, those numbers have now escalated. Food banks are working around the clock to help people in this unprecedented increase due to the impact of the coronavirus, as an estimated 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in the past two weeks.
"We don't know how long we can sustain at this pace" is the concern being voiced by many food banks across the country, according to Feeding America's Communication Director Zuani Villarreal in a phone interview with Changing America. Villarreal points out that "school closures, rising unemployment and rising poverty due to quarantine and stay-at-home orders will disproportionately impact people already at risk of hunger and could result in an estimated additional 17.1 million people experiencing food insecurity, an increase of 46 percent, based on projections using Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap data."
In addition, Feeding America reports a recent overall drop in donations due to the pandemic, mostly from retail and manufacturing donor channels. Together, those two channels make up about 50 percent of the food donations.
Last week, Feeding America announced an estimated $1.4 billion in additional resources will be needed over the next six months to help neighbors struggling with hunger due to the impact of COVID-19.
A $100 million gift later in the week by Amazon's Jeff Bezos to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund will assist in sustaining operations, according to Feeding America.
But Feeding America says the need is great due to the pandemic causing a disruption in the supply chain in keeping the food banks fully stocked, and Villarreal asks those who can donate to please do so. "There is a shortage of inventory across the board, even at the grocery store," she says, about the importance of getting food to the rising numbers of people who need it.
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Citing survey results from Mar. 31 to April 2, Villarreal shared these numbers with Changing America that show the effects of COVID-19:
- 98 percent of the organization’s food banks (195 out of 200) report an increase in demand for food assistance, with an average increase of 63 percent
- 59 percent of food banks (117 out of 200) report a decrease in inventory from the same time last year
- 95 percent of food banks (190 out of 200) report an increase in operating expenses, with an average increase of 31 percent
- 67 percent of food banks (133 out of 200) are accepting and are in need of volunteer support
In a press release, Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot says, “The people we serve and the charitable food system in the United States are facing a ‘perfect storm,’ with surges in demand, declines in food donations and volunteers, and disruptions to normal operating procedures, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. It is all of our neighbors who now more than ever need help putting food on their tables.”
An example of this need is the long lines of cars seen stretching along roads at food banks for drive-thru pickup throughout Orlando, Fla., this week, where the tourism industry has been impacted by the coronavirus, including closures at Walt Disney World and numerous hospitality related industries.
In an interview with Changing America, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida's Chief Development Officer Greg Higgerson says, "What we’re facing in Central Florida is a demand for help with food that greatly exceeds the capacity of the food delivery system. At our Food Bank, we’ve doubled our daily distribution of food to the community to more than 300,000 meals per day."
However, Higgerson is optimistic. "Our sources for food donations remain strong, and we anticipate more food in the pipeline from purchased food orders that we’re waiting to receive, and from the USDA’s food commodities program. While our retail grocery store donations have nearly gone away due to lower stock in stores, we feel that will be back on track when the grocery supply chain nationwide stabilizes a bit more," he says.
Jennifer Camacho of the Orlando area is the recipient of food donations at a recent church food bank distribution event in Central Florida. “We are a family of six, four of which are children under the age of nine,” Camacho says. “To say that the food bank at Faith Assembly was a complete blessing is an understatement,” she says.
In Richmond, Va., Feed More, which is part of the Feeding America network, has staff and volunteers rushing in to take care of the community. “As one of the backbone nonprofits in the area, we’re here for our neighbors when they need us most. Working together as a community to lift each other up is what will help us all get through these uncertain times,” says Feed More Marketing & Communications Manager Jessica Howe Hickey in an interview.
Feed More has seen a significant increase in requests for emergency food assistance in their 29-county and five-city service coverage area in Central Virginia. “Our Agency Network infrastructure remains strong,” Howe Hickey reports. “We began preparing our mitigation strategies on March 3. This preparation enabled us to adjust our operations and food distribution models to meet the need, while keeping safety a top priority. As the supply chain works to recover, we have an adequate food supply that will allow us to meet the growing need,” she says.
Feed More usually receives an average of 200 to 300 volunteer applications a month. “We put out a call for volunteers in early March and more than 600 compassionate individuals completed our online volunteer application,” Howe Hickey says.
To protect the safety and health of all involved, Feeding America's member food banks are following strict physical distancing protocols and no-contact food distributions to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“As we press forward through this public health crisis, we continue to evolve as the circumstances warrant,” says Howe Hickey.
“We are doing what we do best — collecting, preparing and distributing food to our neighbors in need,” she says.
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