The United States is starting to claw its way out of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, but food insecurity persists, especially for children and older adults.
Food banks around the U.S. continue giving away far more canned, packaged and fresh provisions than they did before the virus outbreak tossed millions of people out of work, forcing many to seek something to eat for the first time. For those who are now back at work, many are still struggling, paying back rent or trying to rebuild savings.
“We have all been through an unimaginable year,” said Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, the network’s largest. It was distributing as much as 1 million pounds of groceries daily at various points during the pandemic last year.
Data from Feeding America, a national network of most food banks in the U.S., shows that its members dispensed far more in the last three months of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
The food banks that agreed to let Feeding America publicly share their data, 180 out of 200 total, collectively distributed far more food — about 42 percent — during the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period of 2019. The amount of food allotted in the last quarter slipped just slightly from the previous three months, down around just 1 percent.
Katie Fitzgerald, Feeding America’s chief operating officer, said the network’s members are still seeing demand above pre-pandemic levels, although final numbers for this year’s first quarter aren’t yet available. Fitzgerald said she expects the food banks will collectively distribute the equivalent of 6 billion meals this year, about the same amount they gave away last year and far above the 4.2 billion meals given out in 2019.
“A lot of families who were living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic were already experiencing food insecurity,” she said. “Now, the level of insecurity for some has grown more extreme, when you see real hunger — mom skipping meals to feed the family.”
America’s yearlong food insecurity crisis has been felt especially sharply by children who lost easy access to free school meals, and older adults who struggled to get groceries or meals at senior centers because they worried about contracting the virus.
“It got really ugly,” said Silvia Baca Garcia, 33, a Phoenix resident from Honduras who scrambled to feed her three children and granddaughter during months of unemployment caused by the viral outbreak. “It had been a lot easier when my two boys were in school and getting their hot breakfasts and lunches everyday.”