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Too many families have struggled with food insecurity for too many years.
Getting access to enough healthy food is a task that has only been made harder by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is especially harming Latinos.
Worse, food insecurity is overburdening social services and nonprofit organizations that provide much-needed food—especially nutritious, healthy meals—to families, according to a recent report from the UCONN Rudd Center and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA).
“The COVID-19 pandemic placed extreme hardship on American families and the food banks that help them put dinner on the table,” the report’s authors write. “Unemployment soared and people seeking food assistance, who were also those most severely impacted by COVID-19, dramatically increased over a short period of time. Health-focused food banks nationwide struggled to provide nutritious foods that supported community health while dealing with food suppliers that were out of stock, volunteers who were sheltering in place, and in person distributions that were no longer safe.”
Why Does There Need to be Greater Focus on Hunger Assistance?
UCONN Rudd Center and PHA’s report, “Under Pressure: Prioritizing Healthy Hunger Relief During the Covid-19 Pandemic,” clearly illustrates why this problem is so critical.
Mainly, families need immediate, widespread, equitable food access — especially nutritious meals.
“During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic food banks experienced wide-spread food shortages, particularly of healthier shelf-stable options,” the report’s authors write. “Other challenges placed a significant burden on food banks across the country, such as the volunteer workforce disappearing to shelter in place; community partners closing their doors to protect individual safety; and the unprecedented need for emergency food support that was unmet by federal food programs.”
In their interviews of healthy hunger relief partnerships, the researchers discovered five key points that advocates and others should note, including:
- There was high need in every state
- Food banks shifted from working with food pantries to mass distributions
- Food banks changed how they operate
- Food banks increased their capacity
- Innovative partnerships were created
- New partnerships opened up opportunities to help seniors
- Long-held programs and values were disrupted
- Nutrition initially unable to be first priority
- Suppliers had long lead times and increased prices
- Client choice practically disappeared
- Traditional food banking is evolving
- Federal programs had a big impact
- Food banks tackled more system-wide challenges
“The growth and increased role of food banks in our society is not a success story; it is a chapter in the failure of the American government to equip its citizens for success,” the report’s authors write. “Food banks have long said that their goal is to not be needed. However, the COVID-19 crisis has seen food banks expand capacity in order to meet an unmet and unprecedented need.”
These issues severely impacted those already experiencing health inequities, including Latinos.
How Does Food Insecurity Impact Latinos?
Before the pandemic, “14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food,” according to Feed America.
This is especially impacting Latino and Black households, who are more likely to suffer food insecurity (16.2% and 21.2%, respectively) than the national average (11.1%), according to USDA data, Salud America! reports.
While it might take years to understand the impacts fully COVID-19 had on food insecurity, the initial findings aren’t looking good, according to Feeding America’s recent “The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity” report.
“The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is impacting vulnerable households in various ways. Many food-insecure individuals have characteristics that put them at a higher risk for severe illness associated with COVID-19,” Feeding America states. “Workers who have service occupations or work in the leisure and hospitality industry are more likely to be food insecure and are at risk of further hardship as many businesses have been forced to close and lay off staff.”
This makes the work UCONN Rudd Center and PHA are doing so critical.
“Health-focused food banks do more than just provide calories; they provide well-rounded options that allow community members to make nutritious, healthy meals,” UCONN Rudd Center and PHA report authors write. “These organizations make long-term commitments to healthy hunger relief, prioritizing the nutritional needs of their communities when making purchasing decisions, soliciting donations, and building community programs.”
What Can I Do?
Food insecurity is harming families where you live.
Leaders are stepping up to help, like Philadelphia’s food pharmacy, Atlanta’s food forest, and New York’s plans to help grocery stores donate excess food to charity.
You can help, too.
By downloading a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, you can see how many local children are living in poverty and food deserts, how many people have low food access, and how many households get access to SNAP food benefits.
Then you can email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make the case to address food insecurity where help is needed most!