The COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impact on food-insecure Americans and organizations that combat hunger.
The increased rate of food insecurity due to the pandemic will be an issue that lasts for the next five to seven years, said Jeremy Everett, founder and executive director of the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty at Baylor University.
“It takes economically disadvantaged households a lot longer to recover,” he said.
Pre-pandemic, 40 million Americans were considered food-insecure. Today, there are upwards of 65 to 70 million, Everett said.
“I’m expecting that food insecurity numbers are basically going to double during this period.”
The numbers may drop as the country reopens and people return to work, Everett explained.
“This is good, but we’ll still see a much higher number of hungry people than we did before this event started.”
Organizations that provide meals to those facing food insecurity also are dealing with challenges caused by the pandemic. Food supply chains are disrupted, Everett said.
“We’re seeing a complicating factor. There’s not enough food available to purchase. Even if organizations have money, there’s less food to purchase.”
It’s also a financial challenge when trying to feed an increased number of people in a pandemic, said Jason Coker, field coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi.
Organizations in that state have been distributing lunches to children for about 10 weeks so far. This is longer than the typical summer food program, Coker explained.
Most of those programs are funded through a reimbursable U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, requiring upfront money from organizations, Coker said.
“Now instead of $5,000 for the summer, you’re talking $20,000,” he said. “None of our organizations have that kind of cash on hand.”
Drives to collect non-perishable food items, cleaning and hygiene supplies have been a necessity, said Scarlette Jasper, CBF field personnel serving impoverished communities in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Local churches recently collected items for Jasper to distribute in McCreary County, Kentucky and Scott County, Tennessee through school resource centers.
“That’s for now,” she said. “I don’t expect that support to continue like it has to be able to continue that level of ministry for months and months.”
Jasper said she is budgeting donated financial resources to help supplement the needs of the food-insecure over the next few months.
The method of food distribution has been the biggest change for Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas, Nevada, Chief Operating Officer Larry Scott said.
“We went to a drive-through distribution model and cars are stacking six miles deep,” he said.
Volunteers, food donations and funding are essential for Three Square to continue the needed level of distribution, Scott said.
“The old adage ‘it takes a village’ is a great story of this pandemic,” he said. “We have had everyone from the Coast Guard to a sweet lady at home who sews masks for us.”
It takes time for organizations to ramp up operations to the scale needed to meet current needs, Everett added.
“The world was not prepared for this and certainly we weren’t prepared for this pandemic as a nation.”
Empty grocery shelves have made the issue of hunger much more real, even to individuals who can afford to shop.
“I think that we have a greater level of understanding and empathy towards people that are experiencing hunger because of this.”
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