#overCOVID: Supporting Food Banks
The aftermath of COVID is going to affect our communities for a long time. We need to understand the complexities of our community, so POINT is highlighting some of the essential areas to help during and after COVID. We want to help you get a little better understanding of the people and nonprofit systems we interact with every day. Food banks serve 37,000,000+ people in America who experience food insecurity (and that stat is pre-COVID). How can we better understand the conditions leading to food insecurity, and understand our neighbors who rely on food banks? We’ll break it down for you.
By the way, more than half of food banks are 100% volunteer-run. But the older folks who usually volunteer can’t now because it’s too risky, so there’s literally a nation-wide shortage of volunteers. Wanna do something about it?
What are food banks?
It might surprise you to learn that food banks and food pantries are not the same thing. Feeding America defines food banks as the nonprofit warehouses for millions of pounds of food that will be distributed throughout the country, and food pantries as the places that supply food directly to the people.
How do food banks work?
They source their food through partnerships with groceries, farmers, and government agencies. They store that food, and coordinate with local food pantries to ship it. Most of us might think that local canned food drives supply most of their food, but that’s not the case, although they do contribute. Food banks and their network of partnerships keep food pantries stocked with fresh and nonperishable foods.
Food banks are nonprofit organizations that rely on grants and donations to continue their work. Volunteers keep food banks running–while 51% are fully volunteer-run, the rest of them rely on volunteers to carry out much of their day-to-day operations.
Who benefits from food banks?
Food insecurity affects 1 in 7 Americans, in every county in the United States. Feeding America did a study on Hunger in America and found that:
- 25% of military families use food banks
- 43% are white
- 26% are Black
- 20% are Hispanic
- 33% of households have 1+ family member with diabetes
- 65% of households have a child 18 or under, or someone 60 or older
While food services typically have been used for just emergency assistance, in recent years they have seen people come more regularly. Living costs, including rent, have continued to rise, while wages have stayed stagnant or decreased and families across the US are having trouble putting food on the table. Many families have relied on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) to help with food costs, but for those who aren’t eligible, food banks have become one of the ways they can ensure their families are fed. Additionally, changes to SNAP that would have dropped 700,000 people from the program were set to take effect in April 2020, but courts have blocked the changes from going into effect due to the coronavirus.
Plus, COVID-related unemployment is hurting women more than men. This places an additional burden on single mothers or families that depend on both incomes to pay for things like rent and food.
What can I do to help with food insecurity?
Right now, the easiest thing you can do is find a way to volunteer with a local food bank or food pantry. Many are packing and distributing boxes of food for families and individuals who have been hit hard by COVID. Additionally, as food banks and food pantries are becoming a more regular staple for low-income families, ensuring that they have fresh, healthy food available (as well as products that are gluten or dairy-free) is really important.
As we all know, diet and the amount of processed food you eat has a direct impact on your health. Typically, fresh and healthy foods are too expensive for low-income families to regularly afford. This can lead to people becoming higher risk for chronic health conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. For low-income folks who may not have health insurance coverage or access to affordable medical care, food insecurity + chronic health conditions can rack up a lot of expenses over time.
Providing affordable or free access to healthy foods through food pantries and food banks can help minimize some of those health risks. If you work at a grocery retailer, restaurant, urban farm, or any other food sector, ask your manager or the owner if you can partner with local food banks to supply them with your excess healthy foods that would otherwise go to waste. Or if you work in another sector, ask your company to get involved with Feeding America or another area food bank!
Gear up, volunteer, give, and do more good.