US Food Banks Drowning During Pandemic

US food banks are running out of supply and having to purchase food to keep up with demand.
US food banks are running out of supply and having to purchase food to keep up with demand.

April 17, 2020 — As millions of Americans find themselves without jobs due to COVID-19, many are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table. Since the closures of non-essential services, hours have been cut or positions have been completely lost as businesses struggle to stay afloat while temporarily closed. The United States is now seeing unprecedented numbers of Americans applying for unemployment and tens of thousands are turning to their local food banks to feed themselves and their families. The lines at food banks are increasing every day. This is putting intense pressure on these not-for-profit organizations to keep up with demand, while facing shortages of donations and volunteers.

Food banks have reported that people who have never used food banks before are now coming to local locations in droves. This is forcing many food banks throughout the US to go over budget and purchase food in order to keep up with demand. The Guardian interviewed 20 food banks across 15 US states to see how they were coping with the growing demand and unique struggles during the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the numbers the Guardian reported are startling:

  • Pennsylvania food banks are spending $1 million every week on food and still not meeting demand.
  • A Pittsburgh food bank reports that money spent on buying food has tripled.
  • Northwest Harvest Food Bank in Washington predicts expenses to increase to $8.4 million a month.
  • Feeding Alabama Food Bank predicts $1.71 million to be spent on food purchasing until July.
  • Greater Cleveland Food Bank predicts going $4.9 million over budget by September.

While these numbers are specific to locations across the US, together they paint a drastic picture. In the current climate, food banks just simply cannot keep up with the demand caused by mass layoffs due to COVID-19. While some food banks are going over budget to keep up their supply, this is not a sustainable approach in the long run. The next step will be reducing the amounts of food given to people in order to be able to give more people at least some food. Turning away whole families is increasing every day, and something has to change before food banks are all dried up.

Many food banks are calling on the US government to step in and provide a plan to stop the food crisis. Some suggest putting a plan in place for food waste to go to food banks. There has been a dramatic increase in food waste as of late, as restaurants have closed and as a result are no longer ordering food supplies they normally do. Food producers, including small local farmers, are finding themselves with too much food and no where for it to go. This food has been going to waste, but could be redirected to food banks in order to fill the void from donations. The next few weeks will reveal how the US government will address and provide solutions to the growing food crisis in the US.