A food crisis is brewing in the United States

1 May 2020

Food banks in the United States are overrun by demand, and Feeding America, the organization that coordinates food banks in the U.S., estimates that an additional $1.4 billion is required to meet the skyrocketing need in the six months.

Unemployment numbers in the country reached staggering highs this week with 30 million Americans filing for unemployment in the last month and a half. As a result of lost wages, an estimated 17 million more people will face food insecurity and add to the 37 million people that the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported went hungry in 2018. According to an investigation by the Guardian, that translates to one in three people using food banks for the first time.

A food crisis is brewing in the United States

This increased demand is coming at a time when fears of contracting coronavirus have drastically reduced the number of volunteers that assist at food pantries and the traditional supply chains that provide excess food from foodservice and retailers have slowed to a trickle.

At some food pantries, the shortage of volunteers – many of which are senior citizens who are at risk for contracting COVID-19 – has caused facilities to close. To help fill in the gap, the government has deployed the national guard to help distribute food and ensure that these vital resources can remain open, but this federal resource is only a temporary solution.

In an effort to attract more volunteers and keep workers and patrons safe, food banks are instating new protocols for food delivery and handling. Some of these changes include switching to home deliveries and providing drive-thru service to minimize exposure. However, these efforts and their financial burden are being shouldered by food banks themselves, according to news outlet CNBC.

The U.S. government is not unaware of the struggle. Some of these institutions will receive funding from the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, which was infused with $850 million in additional funding through the last two congressional emergency aid packages. But even with additional funding, many experts worry that it will not be enough.

The Guardian reported that rust belt states like Ohio are among the hardest hit communities, but other cities like Phoenix, Arizona; Independence, Montana; Amherst, Massachusetts; and Chicago area all contending with surging demand that has in some cases increased by almost 900%.

This shocking level of need coupled with the reduction in resources and work staff has left food banks across the country struggling to weather the perfect storm. Many food bank leaders have expressed fear that funding will run out and supplies will become inaccessible in the clogged supply chins. These leaders worry that the question now is, how long can they hold out.