According to Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap research, more than 1 in 7 Kentuckians, over 650,000, struggled with food insecurity in 2018. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, even more Kentuckians found themselves unable to provide enough food for their families. Amidst shutdowns in March, many people lost their income, forcing them to make trade-offs between food and important basic needs, like paying for housing, bills and medicine.
Many families struggling with food insecurity did not qualify for federal nutrition programs, so the local food banks and other hunger relief agencies became a direct line of support. As a result, food banks experienced massive increases in food distribution.
“In the early stages of the pandemic, one agency reported assisting three times the number of folks they typically served on a given day, and some counties saw up to a 35 percent increase in distribution, with an average increase of nearly 20 percent overall since March,” explains Michael Halligan, Chief Executive Officer of God’s Pantry Food Bank, which serves 50 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky.
The ebb and flow of food distribution at food banks has closely correlated to distribution of relief funding, including stimulus checks, SNAP waivers and unemployment aid. Donations to food banks have also mirrored federal aid. In addition to corporate, nonprofit, and government donations, God’s Pantry Food Bank received many individual donations of exactly $1,200, as many who were fortunate to avoid repercussions from the economic fallout caused by COVID-19 chose to donate their stimulus checks to others in need.
“The worst of times brings out the best of people. The outpouring of support has been heartwarming,” says Halligan.
Farmers have always been essential workers, but during the pandemic their role became pivotal. With food supply chains facing issues after school and restaurant closures, farmers were working harder than ever to reduce food waste and to keep food flowing through the market to grocery store shelves. While navigating new hardships and uncertainty, farmers are still partnering with local food banks and donating milk to offset hunger in their communities.
No matter what state you live in, there are millions of people facing hunger throughout our country, many for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic. September is Hunger Action Month and a great time to take a stand against hunger in your area by donating or volunteering at your local food bank. Not sure how to get started? Visit Feeding America for ideas on how you can help your community.