The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in hunger and food insecurity. So much so, that a comparison is being drawn to the poorest time in US history — the 1929 Great Depression.
During a recent news briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, a discussion was held that drew the parallels.
Cited during the briefing, currently at least 54 million people in the US are now facing hunger. Close to 60 million went hungry in the Great Depression in 1929.
During this era of COVID-19, like the Great Depression, food banks are now regularly seeing long lines with people who were previously gainfully employed, who now find themselves out of a job and seeking food assistance for themselves and their families for the first time.
Local Food Bank Reports Increased Demands
The situation is the same locally. At MEND — Meet Each Need with Dignity, based in Pacoima — there has been a huge increase of people coming to their food bank.
“In the last five months we have served 5,000 people directly each week which is unprecedented,” said Chanya Blumenkrantz, MEND’s chief development officer. “We started to see the increase almost immediately with Covid-19. We quickly implemented both a food bank drive-through line along with our walk-up line.
“Between March 19 and June we were seeing a heavy increase of people coming to the food bank. When the economy opened up partially the numbers of people dropped back down closer to our annual numbers, serving between 1,500-2,000 a week. But our numbers went up again when businesses closed back up, and [stimulus and unemployment] checks dried up,” she said.
MEND has directly served 62,085 people between March 19-August 28.
MEND’s food bank is the largest in the Valley, normally serving the homeless, the near homeless and low-income families who are struggling on a regular basis. But now it is seeing much larger numbers of people who need help, who are trying to stretch a dollar, who are experiencing job loss as a result of the pandemic.
Blumenkrantz said the nonprofit, which also distributes food to other organizations as well as providing food directly through the food bank, found itself with the same challenges that grocery stores had at the start of COVID-19, trying to keep shelves stocked with food staples.
“We had to source food from other suppliers we were able to find to supplement our food supply for our food boxes,” Blumenkrantz said, adding the organization received a grant from Albertson’s and creatively found other direct suppliers.
“Although the food supply chain hasn’t completely recovered, we pride ourselves in giving a family of four enough food for four days,” she said.
“The pandemic has caused a higher demand for food, and there is a lot less food, and fewer places which offer it,” said Ami McReynolds, chief equity and programs officer at Feeding America. She notes that the country’s middle-class now finds themselves accepting food donations from food banks where they may have once volunteered.
Rev. David Beckmann, president emeritus of the Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute, confirmed the bleak statistics.
“A ‘Feeding America’ economic model indicates that 54 million people including 18 million children may experience food insecurity in 2020,” Beckmann said.
He points out, however, that current census data now indicates that the crisis is even worse than Feeding America’s estimate. “African American, Latino, and Asian families with children have been hit even more severely than white families with children,” he said.
Based on the Census Bureau’s weekly surveys, over twice as many Latino families and three times as many Black families struggle with insecurity compared to white families. But the total number of families struggling with a lack of food is far greater than in previous years.
“In a recent week about 14 million children (that is, the children in one-sixth of US households) aren’t getting the food they need. This is five times higher than before the pandemic,” Beckmann said.
McReynolds said people throughout the country are suffering, particularly in Southern states and on Native American reservations. “People of color, including Blacks and Native Americans, are suffering from hunger at two and a half times the rate of whites.”
In order to support these families, Beckmann and McReynolds maintain that several policy changes are needed to address both hunger and the poverty causing it, pointing out the effect of the pandemic on families and communities extends beyond the health risks.
Policy changes, they said, are needed to protect people. They say while families can take measures to socially distance or self-quarantine, they still need to eat. And simply put, the loss of jobs and shut-downs throws people into food insecurity. Federal programs have to be expanded and congressional representatives must foresee the impact of the pandemic and advocate for the programs that are the lifeline for families.
“Increase nutrition assistance right now, increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit level, and extend Pandemic EBT in the COVID relief bill now under negotiation” urged Beckmann. “People should call or email their senators about this right now.”
For more information, go to https://www.bread.org/hunger-and-coronavirus or
https://www.bread.org/es/el-hambre-y-el-coronavirus for Spanish.