US food banks see growing demand: ‘No sign of slowing down anytime soon’
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The pandemic has highlighted an issue that has been a problem for many Americans long before COVID-19 — hunger, according to a recent report from Feeding America.
“Hunger is the physical sensation of not having enough food,” said Cassidie Carmen Bates, government and public affairs manager for the Contra Costa & Solano Food Bank in California.
Bates told Fox News Digital on Friday that food insecurity means a lack of access to four essential ingredients: 1) affordable food; 2) nutritious foods; 3) accessible power supply; and 4) sufficient food.
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It is the lack of financial resources available for food at the household level.
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, the overall national rate of food insecurity was 10.9%, which was the lowest in 20 years, according to the report.
The rate increased slightly the following year in 2020 to 11.8%.
This translates to approximately 38.3 million people living in a household defined as food insecure.
But levels of food insecurity differ “substantially” across the population as well as by race and ethnicity, according to the Feeding America report.
The “counties with the highest food insecurity rates are disproportionately rural”.
The report noted that all counties and congressional districts have people facing hunger, but 99% of counties have more food-insecure blacks and Latinos than whites. And the “counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are disproportionately rural.”
“Federal programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the nation’s largest food assistance program, are the first line of defense against hunger,” the report added.
“Unlike the assistance provided by food banks and similar organizations, however, the availability of government assistance generally varies based (in part) on household income. In the case of SNAP, state income thresholds range from 130% to 200% of the federal poverty level (between $36,075 and $55,500 for a family of four in January 2022).
Many of those people who don’t meet the criteria for programs like SNAP (but are still food insecure) turn to food banks, Bates told Fox News Digital.
“A food bank is a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes food to hunger relief charities,” according to the Feeding America website.
“Food banks act as food storage and distribution depots for smaller frontline agencies; and do not usually distribute food directly to people experiencing hunger themselves.”
“We are definitely seeing an increase in demand for food across our network of 700 community partners, including food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens.
They all rely on donors and volunteers to run their food banks, according to Feeding America.
But food banks are struggling to meet increased demand due to dwindling donations, supply chain delays and inflation, according to NPR.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in demand for food across our network of 700 community partners, including food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens,” said Man-Yee Lee, spokesperson for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
“Food Depository staff have heard from network partners and guests of these venues that inflation and rising costs of items like food and gas are negatively affecting them and their budget.”
Lee told Fox Digital News that their network partners served 10% more households in April 2022 compared to the same month the year before, which she likely attributes to financial pressure on households.
But he is spending twice as much as two years ago just to cope with rising food prices and rising demand.
“This is due to increased prices, increased demand – also a change in our sourcing strategy to buy more, as food donations and government food supplies have dwindled,” said Lee.
“With inflation at its highest level in 40 years – over 9% – the prices of food items such as eggs and meat have risen by 19.4%, which means that food is currently more expensive than other products,” said Joel Sjostrom, president and CEO of Food. Bank of Contra Costa & Solano.
The California Food Bank strives to meet community needs through direct distributions every day of the week in its two-county service area.
“Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine and its partners distributed 31.6 million meals last year, an increase of 16% over the previous year.
“These prices continue to impact the most vulnerable in our community, particularly in combination with the high gas prices, supply chain shortages and lingering long-term effects of the pandemic,” said added Sjostrom.
He noted that the food bank is pursuing “legislative advocacy alongside community advocates with lived experience of food insecurity to collectively build a stronger social safety net that effectively addresses the root causes of hunger in our region. “.
But East Coast food banks are also feeling the pressure, with an example in the state of Maine.
It ranks fifth in the nation for very low household food security and first in the New England region, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine and its partners distributed 31.6 million meals last year, an increase of 16% over the previous year,” said Jessica Donahue, director of marketing and communications for Good Shepherd Food Bank.
She told Fox Digital News that the food bank, which is the largest hunger relief organization in Maine, is also seeing growing demand.
“There are 40 to 50 cars lined up along the road leading to our hunger relief partner building every Thursday morning for Free Food Thursday.”
“One of our agency partners, Augusta Food Bank in central Maine, recently said the amount of food it distributes increased 67% two years ago and there was no no signs of slowing down anytime soon,” Donahue added.
“There are 40-50 cars lined up along the road leading to our hunger partner building every Thursday morning for Free Food Thursday. During the day they usually see over 85 cars passing – distributing 50,000 meals every month.”
She emphasized, “And it’s only a of our nearly 600 partners.”
In the short term, Congress and the USDA should allocate more food through the Emergency Food Assistance Program for distribution through food banks to struggling families, Lee said.
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“In the long term, Congress should take action to strengthen our nutritional safety net.”
She added: “For example, [Congress could] extend summer EBT [Electronic Benefits Transfer] nationwide program to ensure children have enough to eat even when school is closed for the summer. »
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It could also work to “ensure that monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are sufficient to ensure families can afford nutritious food throughout the month.”