The holiday season has arrived and is coupled with a heightened COVID-19 pandemic and a challenged economic environment. It has resulted in millions of families not being able to afford food.
Only 44% of households with children are “very confident” they can afford food over the next four weeks, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
“Other data show that hardship has significantly worsened since the pandemic started and remains high, underscoring the need for policymakers to agree on a robust, bipartisan economic relief package,” the CBPP said in a recent report. “Widespread food hardship that continues into the holiday season appears likely unless policymakers immediately provide strong economic relief.”
Many families are having to rely on food banks and other resources as widespread food hardship continues during the pandemic. The CBPP reports that 3.5 million households in the U.S. are “not at all confident” they can afford needed food over the next four weeks.
“Other data show that hardship has significantly worsened since the pandemic started and remains high, underscoring the need for policymakers to agree on a robust, bipartisan economic relief package,” the report also reads. “Widespread food hardship that continues into the holiday season appears likely unless policymakers immediately provide strong economic relief.”
Kara Ross, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan (FBEM) president and CEO, said the food bank has seen a “dramatic increase” in the number of people and families who need help. The organization distributes food through a network of over 700 hunger relief partners to 22 counties in Michigan.
“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people and families that need help,” Ross said. “A lot are facing unemployment, and many need help for the very first time… Since mid-March, we’ve been averaging about 55 mobile food pantries per week in our service area.”
The food bank usually distributes nearly 29 million pounds of food each year, according to a FBEM fact sheet. Since the pandemic hit in March, the food bank has distributed more than 39 million pounds of food, Ross said. It represents an 81% increase compared to all of 2019.
Additionally, nearly 40% more people in Michigan are seeking food assistance during the pandemic.
The mobile pantry food program distributes food by the truck load right into neighborhoods that need help, Ross said. A lot of the food is fresh dairy and produce that can feed up to 300 to 500 people at a time.
Ross said it’s a good time to be thankful for the support that the food bank has received throughout the pandemic. She said the food bank has been able to provide food consistently through the pandemic to families right where they are in their neighborhood.
“We don’t anticipate the need for food to decrease as we go through the new year — we expect that households may need help for six months to a year more as they recover from job loss or the decline of hours that they’ve experienced due to the pandemic,” she said.
Ross added that the food bank is seeing a lot of people in the community volunteering to come together and help distribute food.
“Without these volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to be doing what we’re doing to help neighbors right now,” she said. Ross added that supporting a food bank — especially right now — is extremely helpful.
“(For) our food bank, every dollar is six meals for someone in need,” Ross said. “So, when you give a gift to a food bank, it can be leveraged in a very powerful way to help the hungry.”
“Food banks are really a safety net — it’s an emergency support system that’s put into place to help where there’s gaps,” she added. “Whether it be gaps in federal programs, or gaps in employment, transition, that people are experiencing.”