Hunger and food insecurity decreased significantly in the past six months in the United States, but remain above the pre-COVID-19 pandemic level. And specialists on the subject warn that millions of families face very fragile situations.
An Associated Press study of statistics provided by hundreds of food banks across the country revealed that the situation improved greatly from the second quarter of 2021, when vaccination against the coronavirus took hold and some sectors of the United States began to reactivate. the economy.
Food insecurity “went down, but it’s still high,” said Katie Fitzerald, CEO of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the efforts of more than 200 food banks nationwide. He noted that, despite things improving, the food banks associated with Feeding America continue to distribute 55% more food than before the pandemic.
He also said that there are fears that things will get worse again. Possible setbacks he sees include the delta variant of the coronavirus, which delayed the return to the office of millions of employees and could force new closings of schools and businesses in the coming winter. Other obstacles are the gradual expiration of protections such as moratoriums on eviction of tenants and special aid from the government.
Many low-income or jobless families face an uncertain future.
“There are people who are going back to work, but it is a slow process and God forbid they have to have to fix the car or have something else happen,” said Carmen Cumberland, president of the Community Harvest Food Bank of Fort Wayne, state of Indiana.
Nationwide, food banks working with Feeding America saw a 31% increase in food distributed in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, shortly before the pandemic reached the United States. Those numbers dropped at the end of 2020 and in the first quarter of the current year, but have leveled off, according to the latest data.
The same trend is registered in all corners of the country. At the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, California, demand peaked last winter and early spring this year. In February 2021, that organization distributed 2.2 million kilos (5 million pounds) of food, its all-time high. In March it broke that mark, distributing 2.7 million kilos (6 million pounds).
Starting in March, the numbers started to drop. Almost 2.1 million kilos (4.6 million pounds) were distributed in August, a very high figure compared to 1.2 million kilos (2.7 million pounds) in June 2019.
“The recovery is going to be very, very long and painful for families who depend on food banks,” said Michael Altfest, the food bank’s community liaison. He said that the pandemic added more trauma to those already suffered by families suffering from food insecurity and generated a new recipient of assistance: people who had never needed help but now do need it as a result of the pandemic.
Both groups are forecast to continue to need help well into next year.
“Things are not looking up for low- and middle-income families, and we don’t expect them to get better for a while,” Altfest said.
Among the people who recently became dependent on food banks is Ranada James. While queuing in his car recently to receive food from a food distribution center operated by a local charity called The Arc in Washington, James said “I never thought I would need food assistance.”
“But it helped me a lot, and it continues to do so,” he added.
James has two grandchildren and two nephews living with her. She is discouraged from sending them to school for fear of the pandemic, which means that she cannot go to work.
“And they eat a lot,” he joked. “They are growing and they are selective.”
The CEO of the Central California Food Bank of Fresno, California, Kym Dildine, meanwhile, says that “many people are still without work, especially women.”
At the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, the amount of food distributed in July 2021 was 64% higher than the same month in 2019.
“COVID is not over,” said food bank president Radha Muthiah. “There is still a lot of need.”
Government food stamps are not even close to meeting people’s needs, according to Muthiah, who says that often a person is not eligible for such help, feels intimidated by bureaucracy or is afraid to ask for assistance because they do not have a residence permit in the country. This makes food banks the main source of food for these groups.
In a Washington database, volunteers have befriended some people who regularly seek assistance, including Rob and Devereaux Simms. Bus driver and school employee, both retired and in their 70s, consider themselves middle class and never asked for food aid. But when the pandemic hit, two of her sons were out of work “and things started to get scarce,” Devereaux Simms said.
Today they have three grandchildren at home and they go to the food bank every Wednesday.