COVID-19 Continues to Impact Food Insecurity

Jan 8, 2021  | 7 min  | Ep4621
Food Assistance Client, Odessa, Texas: ”My husband got laid off last year in August and it took me a while to find a job. And even when I found one it wasn’t enough”
 
With the passage of the second Coronavirus Relief Act, billions of dollars are headed to help feed the hungry.
Michelle Book, CEO, Food Bank of Iowa: ”As we look at our distribution, um, in the fall months leading up to Thanksgiving, we've experienced a 30 percent increase in our distribution and that's pounds of food distributed.” 
      
At places like the Food Bank of Iowa, those distributing supplies have become front line workers in the battle against economic hardship brought on by COVID-19.
Michelle Book, CEO, Food Bank of Iowa:” A year ago, we were distributing about a million, million and a half pounds of food a month. Um, today two to two and a half million pounds per month, a year ago, 30 percent of the food that we distributed was USDA commodity food. Today, it's a bigger number of pounds distributed. And 60 percent of that is USDA commodity food.”
 
Book relies on a number of USDA programs to help feed needy families around the Hawkeye state. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, food programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, received additional funding which is helping private agencies feed the ever increasing number of food insecure families.
 
Michelle Book, CEO, Food Bank of Iowa: ”But that money is gone now. And there are more people living in poverty, more people that are poor right now. And there are more people living in poverty, more people that are poor right now paying their bills, meeting essential personal expenses is their priorities. So we do see coming into December, um, much more increased need for food assistance for those families.”
 
According to officials at the West Texas Food Bank, the number of people requesting food assistance in the western part of the Lone Star State is double what it was at this time last year. 
 
Libby Campbell, Executive Director, West Texas Food Bank: ”… and this is where we've been since we've been hanging at about 1.2 to 1.3 million pounds of food a month./ So we served in October 14,006 households. Last October, we served 7,223 households.”
 
Just like her counterpart in Iowa, Campbell has come to rely on USDA programs like TEFAP to help her fill the gap for her clients. 
 
Libby Campbell, Executive Director, West Texas Food Bank: …we serve 19 counties, which is equivalent to about 34,000 square miles of West Texas.
 
Campbell is conscious of how federal funding is one of the key resources that allows her to refill the increased number of empty kitchen cabinets. Without the recent infusion of federal funds, her supply chain would have been severely impacted. Even with the second round of assistance, Campbell notes resources won’t show up at the drop of a hat.
 
Libby Campbell, Executive Director, West Texas Food Bank: “So we are still going to see a food cliff. We're still gonna have to figure out what to do for January, February, and March until some of this stuff does start rolling in.” 
 
To keep the food assistance supply chain moving at the federal level, food bank officials agree having experience at the top is key. 
 
Representative David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia, has served on the House Agriculture Committee since 2003 and was sworn in as chairman earlier this week. Scott says the best way for the committee to help those who are food insecure is to listen to those who are directly helping the communities in need.
 
Rep. David Scott, D – Georgia: “They have to be brought in immediately and quickly to be able to tell us how we can make sure that we made sure that there is nobody in our country going hungry, let alone our children.”
 
Representative Glen Thompson of Pennsylvania, the newly elected Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, points out that provisions in the Farm Bill have helped both farmers and food assistance recipients.
 
Rep. Glenn Thompson, R – Pennsylvania: “You know, the program that we really set up to allow the purchase of excess agriculture commodities that farmers had. And with the disruption of the food supply chain, there were a lot of commodities there, unfortunately, were going to go to waste.”
 
An unintended consequence of COVID-19 school closings was the accidental cutoff of meals that some students rely on each day. However, a provision in the food assistance section of the first Coronavirus Relief package allows school administrators to provide meals to any child even if that child doesn’t attend the school providing the food. 
 
Jessy Sadler, Director of Nutrition Services, Urbandale Community School District: “We’re so glad the USDA did extend that waiver…”
 
Jessy Sadler, Director of Nutrition Services for the Urbandale Community School District in Urbandale, Iowa, has seen meal distribution increase from thousands of meals, to tens of thousands meals.
 
Jessy Sadler, Director of Nutrition Services, Urbandale Community School District: “So we took advantage of every waiver extension out there. So we did a lot of take and bake kind of meals. So all the entrees were frozen for the most part or shelf stable and then produce whether it's whole instead of slicing it or cupping it. And if it's canned, um, a lot of applesauce cups, a lot of whole fresh fruit, just for the sense of, okay, what's easiest, more convenient as well as efficient for our staffing to put together.”
 
Sadler notes one positive outcome has been the ability for her staff to increase the variety of what’s provided in each meal.
 
Jessy Sadler, Director of Nutrition Services, Urbandale Community School District: ”The good thing that came out of it is we were awarded $14,000 and Cares Act money in regards to, uh, procuring local food. So we were able to get a lot of produce, a lot of, um, dairy items, cottage, cheese, eggs, um, yogurt. So we did a lot of that and we were able to provide it for families.”
 
With the global pandemic not slowing down in 2021, Sadler plans to continue using whatever tools are available to help those in need.
 
Jessy Sadler, Director of Nutrition Services, Urbandale Community School District: ”Our goal is to feed every single student, every single child in the Urbandale community.”
 
For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy.

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