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As demand increases at food pantries and soup kitchens, many have little choice but to turn some of those people away, according to a report released Wednesday.
Coming a day before Thanksgiving and a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.68% reached a 30,000-point milestone, Hunger Free America’s survey of emergency food providers is a reminder that — as the economy slowly improves — life is getting tougher for many Americans as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps raging.
‘They are just shell-shocked from the enormity of what they are dealing with.’
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America
The new report also arrives roughly one month ahead of the end of financial-relief deadlines and a national eviction moratorium that advocates say has spun an important safety net.
The report by the national nonprofit organization also adds context to the photos of food-distribution lines snaking through places including Bloomington , Ind., Houston , Texas, Costa Mesa , Calif. and elsewhere, and raises the specter of a K-shaped economic recovery when different parts of the economy — particularly Wall Street and Main Street — regain ground at different rates and times.
Hunger Free America’s national survey of 154 food pantries and soup kitchens revealed:
• 22.5% of the programs this year either had to turn away people, decrease food amounts or cut distribution hours. Last year, 4.8% of programs had to take those steps.
• 11.2% of programs said they couldn’t meet demand this year while seeing a 14.6% increase in the number of people served.
• These programs pulled off operations with fewer people. Over 70% had a reduction in staff and volunteers because of the pandemic.
None of the findings surprised Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America — except how quickly the need for food has spread. “It was validating that this what we’ve seen, this was what we’ve known, this is what we expected,” he said, noting America had a hunger problem even before COVID-19 hit.
Almost 21% of the survey respondents were based in the northeast, another roughly 21% in the midwest. 35% of the survey participants were in the south and 23% in the west.
Other hunger-advocacy organizations are seeing similar patterns: 50 million people now live in food insecure households, according to projections from Feeding America. That’s an increase from the 35 million people the United States Department of Agriculture estimated were in the same condition last year. What’s more, 60% of the food banks within the Feeding America network are seeing increased demand year-over-year, the organization said last week .
U.S. Census Bureau data also shows expanding food insecurity: 8.5% of people in early November said they didn’t have enough to eat in the last week, up from 7.2% in late August, its ongoing survey shows.
Berg hears the strain when he talks to the people that make emergency-food provider programs run. “They are just shell shocked from the enormity of what they are dealing with,” he told MarketWatch.
‘We are starting to see many new families that never thought they’d be seeking help from a food pantry.’
Rhonda Oliver, executive director of Feeding Greene
When these programs turn people away, Berg said it’s mostly a matter of not having enough food on hand. “Hunger in America is never about lack of enough food. It’s lack of money to buy food.” The rule applies equally to cash-strapped households and the charities trying to serve as a backstop, he said.
The report includes quotes from administrators in food programs across the country, such as one from Rhonda Oliver, executive director of the Virginia-based Feeding Greene.
“We are starting to see many new families that never thought they’d be seeking help from a food pantry,” she wrote. “Our middle class is disappearing, and has been since the economy crashed in 2007. Our current coronavirus crisis has forced many of our ‘once middle class’ into a state of not being able to provide for themselves.”
The pantry has an adequate food supply for now, but Oliver said she worried about future amounts “if our current situation continues.”
Though talks on another stimulus are stalled, Berg said extra government money for food stamps and other social services will go a long way because government financial aid can provide much more provisions than food banks, pantries and soup kitchens.
From March to July, the money paid in 22 states for federal-food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, rose to $4.4 billion from $3 billion, the Hunger Free America report said. During that same time period, the case load in 33 states increased by 14%, the report added.
“We champion the volunteers and people around charities, and they provide a vital role and they are some of the best people I’ve ever met,” Berg said.
But some of the “greatest unheralded hunger heroes in America are the rank-and-file employees at the state, county and city level who have done remarkable work to dramatically increase participation in government programs over just a few months.”