As closures and social distancing orders meant to limit spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) sweep across the country, the impact is being felt in communities large and small. While changes taking place are disrupting the lives of nearly everyone in some way, food-insecure individuals will face particular challenges, and the number of people who experience food insecurity is expected to grow. Facing Hunger Food Bank is responding to the crisis as it unfolds, while already reporting increased demand for charitable food assistance. Across the country, food banks have been facing soaring demand and new challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The sharp decline in the economy is leading to an increase in the number of individuals experiencing food insecurity. Facing Hunger Food Bank is already reporting increased demand, while facing operational challenges, including declines in volunteers and retail donations, and demand for charitable food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future. As unemployment has risen, so too has the percentage of food insecure households. 

More Families Have Been Seeking Help From Food Banks

A household being unable to afford sufficient, quality food correlates with experiences of unemployment and poverty.  In light of what’s happened with COVID, this influx that we’ve seen in food insecurity, it’s not going away anytime soon with the unemployment compensation coming to an end.  It is not going away when our economy opens again because there are people that are not going to be able to go back to work.  There are people who may have incurred debt, may have sacrificed homes or cars, or whatever they needed in order to survive during this pandemic.  So, we are going to see a continued need and we’re still going to be faced with the dilemma of not having enough funding.

Accessing the current situation Facing Hunger Food Bank is preparing for a tsunami of food insecurity throughout the tri-state region. Facing Hunger Food Bank has been actively involved in meeting the needs of the community.  We continue to host mobile food distributions in the region of the counties we serve. Facing Hunger Food Bank will continue to receive commodity and purchased food for disbursement to our member agencies. As this next wave surges the underserved population is in need.

With Increased Demand Comes New Challenges

But meeting that increase in demand during a global public health pandemic has come with a host of additional challenges for Facing Hunger Food Bank. From rethinking boxing and distribution operations in light of social distancing to finding the means to supplement significant drops in donations and grocery rescue, Facing Hunger Food Bank is finding a number of evolving hurdles before us as we rise to meet the increase in demand.

Drops in volunteer numbers and social distancing have also forced Facing Hunger Food Bank to quickly rethink how they build, fill, and distribute food boxes. We rely on a network of volunteers, usually 10 to 20 a day, to build our food boxes, to hand out our food boxes, to do all the things that we do.  That number went away overnight to less than 5 a day because people didn’t feel comfortable being in group settings.

Facing Hunger Food Bank likely would not have been able to serve all of the households who’ve approached us for help if we hadn’t received assistance from the National Guard. Facing Hunger Food Bank has implemented new operational procedures that make it possible for volunteers and receiving households to maintain social distancing throughout the building and distribution of food boxes.

The Food Bank has had to expand our infrastructure in order to accommodate the storage, sorting, and distribution of additional food. The food bank has had to add additional warehouse space and 2 vehicles to its fleet as well as additional forklifts. “With double the amount of food [needed to meet demand], it costs double the infrastructure needed to help support all of that,” says Cyndi Kirkhart, Executive Director of Facing Hunger Food Bank, adding that the food bank’s operating costs have jumped from $125,000 a week to $200,000. Facing Hunger Food Bank also launched a home delivery program to get food into the hands of those who are housebound.

There are now 43 million people getting food assistance through SNAP, and while that is still below the peak of almost 48 million, which came after the Great Recession, it’s expected to climb soon if Congress doesn’t extend federal unemployment benefits.

Without the extra $600 dollars a week from the federal government, millions of people currently receiving unemployment could qualify for SNAP. Weekly unemployment benefits, in many states, are just a few hundred dollars.

While SNAP benefits will be extremely important for families, they often aren’t enough to buy people enough groceries for an entire month. Inevitably the last 7 to 11 days of the month, we see an uptick in families requesting food assistance because their SNAP benefits have run out.

In March, Congress made it easier for states to approve people for SNAP benefits, and also allowed states to give everyone the maximum benefit — which is $194 a month for a single person, and $509 for a family of three. Hunger relief organizations are now pushing Congress to increase SNAP benefits across the board by 15%.

Studies show that increasing SNAP benefits also helps stimulate the economy, both at the local and national level.

For Michael Grant, an increase in SNAP benefits, any increase, would make a huge difference.

“Anything would help out,” he said. “You have to stretch it, you know what I mean? How much would $194 last you a month?”

How Can You Help?

Monetary donations is the most effective way people can help Facing Hunger Food Bank continue to meet the soaring demand they’re seeing. “Every $1 donated to us provides seven meals,” says Kirkhart.

Although businesses and cities are beginning to reopen and lift stay-at-home orders, increased need will not disappear overnight. To help, you can donate to umbrella organizations like Feeding America or make a direct donation to Facing Hunger Food Bank visit www.facinghunger.org for further information.

There’s just so many things to think about in terms of how we can improve food security within our community.  We need action, advocacy, and support.  I am hoping that the future will be brighter and better funded and people will go into a mode of not reacting but being proactive.  ~Author: Belinda Chapman