food insecurity, food pantry, record
Volunteers distribute turkeys and food supplies to people at the New York Common Pantry in New York city as a record number of people are food insecure this year. (Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock )

Food Insecurity Reaching Alarming Numbers While Food Pantries Struggle to Meet the Demand

Days before what is arguably the biggest eating holiday of the year, hunger in the U.S. has surged to record numbers. Projections show 50 million people are facing food insecurity in 2020, and many will be waiting on long food-pantry lines to fill their tables for Thanksgiving dinner.

According to Feeding America’s report on the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity is up from an already alarming 35 million people before the pandemic began to more than 50 million in 2020. These numbers translate to one in six people — and one in four children — facing food insecurity this year.

For Black and Latinx households, these numbers are especially heightened, according to Census data. Twenty-seven percent of Black and 23% of Latinx respondents with children said they hadn’t had enough to eat in the prior week, compared to 12% of white people.

Record unemployment has forced many people across the country to wait in long lines at a food pantry to feed their families. According to The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily, many food banks in New York have closed because a large number of the people who run these pantries are elderly and can’t afford to be exposed to the coronavirus. The supply of operating food pantries is not meeting the growing demand of hungry people.

Across the country, the picture is similarly grim. The Guardian reported that in Cleveland, 5,000 families showed up last week for a pre-Thanksgiving drive-in food distribution. Around 54% of the food was for children and seniors. Earlier in November, the North Texas Food Bank of Dallas distributed groceries to more than 25,000 people, setting the record for its busiest day yet. In Chicago, the Lakeview pantry said they provided groceries to 237% more people this year compared to 2019.

According to Feeding America’s report, the state with the highest projected food insecurity rate is Mississippi at 22.6%, but Nevada and Louisiana have the highest food insecurity rate for children at 32.3%. In California, there was a 1.9 million increase in the number of people in food-insecure households since before COVID-19, and there are an estimated 6.2 million people in food-insecure households in the state — of which more than two million are children. The state with the highest increase in the food insecurity rate is Massachusetts at 59%; children in the state have experienced a 102% increase in food insecurity. New Jersey is projected to experience a 56% increase in food insecurity compared to 2018.

Feeding America’s report indicates the pandemic’s impact on hunger may be lasting effects.

“It took ten years for food insecurity rates to return to pre-Great Recession levels,” the report said. “For now, with no immediate end to the [health] crisis in sight, demand for charitable food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.”

To find a local food bank to donate, inquire about volunteering or procure food, visit Feeding America’s site and search by zip code or state.

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