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US Food Banks Are Overwhelmed With Demand

From Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida, millions of Americans worry where from their next meal will come. Since the coronavirus outbreak began 10 months ago, the need for food has skyrocketed. 

“There is stress on all the food banks because of the large amount of people requesting food,” said Zack Wilson, executive director of the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo, Texas.

Kyle Waide, CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, among the largest in the nation, agrees. “The pandemic has increased the demand for food assistance in communities that were already struggling, especially for people of color and low-income working families,” he said. “Half the people who come to our food pantry are there for the first time.” 

Zuani Villarreal, communications director for Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, says there has been an approximately 60% increase in the number of people leaning on food banks. 

“There are a lot of people who are barely making ends meet, and they need a little extra help to put food on the table,” Villarreal said. “Food banks are scrambling to meet the increasing demand for donations of food.”

Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, says food banks are doing the best they can. “But the system is not designed to feed so many people.”

There has been in Atlanta “a 70% increase in the amount of food we’re providing,” Waide said.  His group, which often receives donations from grocery stores and food shortages, has led the food bank to purchasing supplies from wholesalers and manufacturers, increasing costs of feeding the downtrodden, as well as the amount of time it takes to receive food.  

As executive director with the Salvation Army in Detroit, Michigan, Jamie Winkler has watched the food bank system there become overwhelmed with how many people need food in the low-income neighborhoods of a city that is already challenged by urban decay and poverty. 

“A lot of people lost their jobs, and some of them became homeless,” he said. “And families are finding it difficult to feed their children, since they can’t get free meals at school anymore because they are closed due to the pandemic.”

Winkler said the Salvation Army drives “bread trucks” around the low-income neighborhoods offering soup, sandwiches, and hot meals. 

Wilson, of the abovementioned High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo, said his group can get food to people in the city. But, the rural area outside Amarillo is more challenging because the average distance between towns is 48 kilometers. 

Alaska, too, has seen spiking demand by the need for food, arising in part due to a depressed tourist industry. “Tourism is a huge part of our economy,” said Cara Durr, director of public engagement at the Food Bank of Alaska in Anchorage. “Cruise ships were canceled, and many people didn’t come for vacation.”

Posing challenges, the only way to get food to the remote parts of the state is by air.  “We are the only food bank in the country that delivers food by plane. Some native villages may have just a couple hundred people, and it’s challenging and expensive to get food to them,” she said.

Yolanda Thompson set up a small food pantry in front of her Alexandria, Virginia home. With the help of family, friends, and a local nonprofit, she buys groceries–such as fresh vegetables, flour, and rise– for low-income, unemployed or underemployed neighbors

Mirna Nolasco, who arrived at Thompson’s house with her baby, said the additional food is “a blessing to my family.”