‘No end in sight’: hunger surges in America amid a spiraling pandemic

The Guardian – By Nina Lakhani/New York & Maanvi Singh/Oakland – Wed November 25, 2020

Unprecedented demand for food aid is on the rise as states across the country contemplate new lockdowns.

Millions of Americans must rely on charity to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table this year, as hunger surges amid a devastating spiraling of the Covid-19 pandemic which the Trump administration has failed to get under control.

In what is traditionally a season of celebration, less than half of US households with children feel “very confident” about having enough money to afford the food needed over the next month, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest pandemic survey. A staggering 5.6m households struggled to put enough food on the table in the past week.

Families of color are suffering disproportionately with 27% of black and 23% of Latino respondents with children reported not having enough to eat sometimes or often over the past week – compared with 12% of white people.

Overall food insecurity has doubled since last year due to record unemployment and underemployment rates. For families with children, hunger is three times higher than in 2019, according to analysis by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the non-partisan Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

Now, as states across the country contemplate new lockdowns to slow down the rampant spread and record hospitalizations, the unprecedented demand for food aid is on the rise, according to the Guardian’s latest snapshot survey:

In Cleveland, 5,000 families showed up last Thursday for the pre-Thanksgiving drive-in distribution compared with 3,300 a week earlier and an average of 1,600 over the summer. Some 54% of the food distributed was for children and seniors. “We’re now seeing families who had an emergency fund but it’s gone and they’re at the end of their rope. We’re going to be doing this for a really long time, and that’s frankly terrifying given the impact hunger has on physical health, learning and development for children and parents’ stress,” said Kristin Warzocha, president of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

One woman in Cleveland, who didn’t want to be identified, discharged herself from the hospital against medical advice so that she didn’t miss the Thanksgiving food box delivery. “That’s the depth of need and desperation some families are feeling,” added Warzocha.

Earlier this month, there were long lines in Dallas as the North Texas Food Bank provided groceries to just over 25,000 people – its busiest day on record. The food bank distributed 7,000 whole turkeys that day, and a total of about 600,000 pounds of food. “Hunger isn’t hidden any more,” said Trisha Cunningham, CEO of the food bank. “If it isn’t you, then this is your neighbor, this is your child’s classmate, this is your hairdresser.”

In central Alabama, demand at the Grace Klein food pantry is up 20% since last month. “It could be the rumours of civil unrest or the rise in Covid cases driving demand, but people are living off this food,” said director Jenny Waltman. The pantry is currently serving about 12,000 people each week, compared with 2,500 a week before the pandemic. The 200 volunteers and staff are exhausted, said Waltman.

The Food Bank of New York was forced to start doling out the Thanksgiving frozen turkeys well before the holiday. Demand had dipped slightly in August as public health restrictions were loosened and folks returned to work, but another lockdown is looming, and the lines are growing. “We’ve been hustling to ramp supplies back up before the holidays … [and] sending more trucks into neighborhoods, so people don’t have wait in cold, crowded lines,” said Matt Honeycutt, the food bank’s chief development officer.

In Chicago, the Lakeview pantry has provided groceries for 237% more people so far this year compared to 2019, with demand “ramping up again” after leveling off slightly over the summer, according to CEO Kellie O’Connell. “The pandemic has brought to light how normal wasn’t working for so many people, especially black and brown communities.”

“Across the country demand has not let up, and food banks do everything they can to make sure families have food on the table for Thanksgiving. There’s no end in sight, but we can’t be the only solution,” said Zuani Villareal, spokeswoman for Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks nationwide. Since the start of the pandemic, four of every 10 people seeking food aid are first-timers.

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Posted by Teri Perticone

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