Food Banks Are Working Overtime to Meet Food Insecurity in the U.S.

Supermajority Education Fund

April 20, 2020

It’s been roughly a month since states began issuing stay-at-home orders, and during this time, Americans have filed for unemployment at record highs while others have seen cuts to their hours, wages, and salaries. Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, is expecting an estimated 17.1 million more people will face food insecurity as a result of COVID-19, and food pantries around the country are already facing long lines and shortages. 

Ami McReynolds, Feeding America’s chief equity and programs officer, says 100 percent of food banks are reporting an average 63 percent increase in demand for food assistance. There are fewer food donations from food retailers and manufacturers. For instance, in Detroit, tens of thousands of people have been showing up to local food pantries daily, and some leave empty-handed, Bridge Detroit reported this past Wednesday. 

There are also fewer volunteers available to operate local agencies. “Our network has over 2 million volunteers that provide support in helping to store, to pack and distribute food,” McReynolds says. “Many of those volunteers are 60 or older, and so we’re asking them to stay at home, right? We want them to be safe.”

Food banks have switched gears in getting food to clients by allowing them to schedule at-home deliveries and launching pop-up pantries to supplement the work of local food pantries that have closed. For example, Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, California, opened a drive-thru pantry in Anaheim, California, in the wake of 100 agencies in Orange County closing, CBS Los Angeles reported this past Monday. Feeding America is also working toward solutions to making the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program more accessible, as it will allow families to make food purchases at a grocery store.

McReynolds says there has been an uptick in people asking to volunteer and donate to food pantries in need, and some pantries are receiving financial assistance. Last week, the Greater Chicago Food Depository announced grants for pantries in need in Cook County, Illinois. What’s more, a majority of those funds will help keep pantries that serve black and brown communities, who are most vulnerable to food insecurity, open.  

But, McReynolds adds, the conversation around food insecurity was urgent before the pandemic. Thirty-seven million people were food insecure before the pandemic, including about 11 million children, 5.5 million seniors, communities of color, and those with compromised immune systems, according to McReynolds. Feeding America is working across sectors to raise awareness around food insecurity.

“How we grow awareness and how we seek out volunteers and new partners, how we are able to garner funds to support our work, each of those is a seed that we’re planting toward building a more robust movement around ending hunger in this country,” Reynolds says. “Being able to work with government partners, the business community, and also within communities locally is going to be key,” McReynolds adds.