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'We May Have to Ration': US Food Banks Face Shortages as Demand Surges
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=54026"><span class="small">Nina Lakhani and Maanvi Singh, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Friday, 17 April 2020 08:31

Excerpt: "Food banks face going millions of dollars over budget as they struggle to meet surging demand from those hit hard by mass layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic."

Members of the national guard put food in bags to be delivered to people in need at the Find food bank in Indio, California, on 24 March. (photo: Étienne Laurent/EPA)
Members of the national guard put food in bags to be delivered to people in need at the Find food bank in Indio, California, on 24 March. (photo: Étienne Laurent/EPA)

'We May Have to Ration': US Food Banks Face Shortages as Demand Surges

By Nina Lakhani and Maanvi Singh, Guardian UK

17 April 20

Food banks across the US are under widespread and growing pressure as they cope with an increase in the ‘new needy’ amid the coronavirus pandemic

ood banks face going millions of dollars over budget as they struggle to meet surging demand from those hit hard by mass layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Across the US, not-for-profit groups are buying truckloads of increasingly expensive food to cope with the sharp increase in the “new needy” – and the dramatic decline in donations from supermarkets left empty by panic shoppers.

The pressures are widespread and growing, according to more than 20 food banks and pantries across 15 states consulted by the Guardian. For example, in Pennsylvania, food banks are spending an extra $1m a week and yet still turning hungry families away.

In Alabama, one pantry looks set to go $3.6m over budget by August as food purchases and running costs – electricity, cleaning materials, boxes and overtime – have tripled: “We’re applying for grants as fast as we can,” said Jenny Waltman from Grace Klein pantry in Birmingham.

The recent rise in public donations is unlikely to offset projected shortfalls.

“We have enough food for the next month,” warned Lisa Scales, president of Pittsburgh food bank where the money spent buying food has tripled. “With so many businesses shutting, we’re concerned community donations won’t sustain this level.”

The economic fallout of the global health crisis has seen record numbers of first-timers – people who have never previously needed food aid – flocking to new drive-thru distribution centres, which have been created to comply with social distancing rules.

Queues up to six miles long have become common at these pop-up collection points as farwide as San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Cleveland, where thousands of recently furloughed and unemployed people wait hours for grocery boxes.

As demand escalates, the price of non-perishable staples such as peanut butter, eggs, canned vegetables, beans, pasta, rice and jam is soaring, while supplies are running low with four- to eight-week delays and bottlenecks reported across the supply chain.

The wholesale cost of rice has almost tripled and won’t be delivered until June, according to one Pennsylvania-based distributor that supplies more than 40 food banks. “Canned fruit and veg are very hard to get, rice and pasta is challenging, and costs have gone crazy as manufacturers pay more for labor, food and transport,” said Mike Fellinger.

“If you find rice it’s like gold,” added Ron Mizutani, president of the Hawaii food bank.

In response, innovative schemes have emerged to take advantage of an abundance of perishable produce such as tomatoes, apples and milk which would otherwise be dumped or left rotting in fields. An estimated 30-40% of the US food supply is wasted, which is the equivalent to throwing out $161bn of produce annually.

However, in one plan, Feeding Florida is paying local farmers to continue harvesting thousands of acres of crops, some of which is turned into freezable soups, sauces and ready meals by a network of idle restauranteurs.

‘Crisis mode’

The unfolding public health crisis has triggered the worst economic crisis in almost a century, exposing the precarious state of millions of working Americans thanks to weak labor rights, eroded government safety nets and low wages.

“It’s not surprising to see so many ‘new needy’, when even before the pandemic, millions of working Americans were already living on the edge of poverty, making tough choices between food and rent and bills every month,” said Ellen Vollinger, legal director at the Washington based Food Research and Action Centre (Frac).

In 2019, about 40 million Americans received free meals or groceries through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries, schools, soup kitchens and shelters, according to Feeding America. The working poor, elderly and disabled and infirm accounted for the vast majority of recipients.

Even before the pandemic, half of American adults had either no emergency savings or not enough to cover three months of living expenses, according to Bankrate’s 2019 financial security index.

Since then, more than 22 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, though the true number of layoffs is probably significantly higher.

Unsurprisingly, the demand for food aid has risen exponentially, and is mostly driven by first-timers, according to groups in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

For instance, at pantries in Silicon Valley, demand is increasing about 50% each week, with first-timers such as security and cafeteria staff furloughed by tech companies, teachers, and restaurant workers accounting for more than half of those needing food.

“It’s not surprising. We already knew a lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Leslie Bacho, chief executive of Second Harvest food bank, which spent a $250,000 on cleaning supplies in March.

No savings and staggering debts: in 2019 Americans owed $14tn including $1.3tn in car loans, $1tn on credit cards, $1.48 in student loans and $9.4tn to mortgage lenders.

In Las Vegas, drivers of luxury vehicles queued for food boxes. “When you see a Lexus in line at 4am prepared to wait six hours, you know there’s real need,” said Larry Scott from Nevada’s Three Square food bank.

  • In Seattle, Washington, the Northwest Harvest food bank expects expenditure to increase eightfold to $8.4m a month through September.

  • Feeding Alabama expects to spend $1.71m purchasing food by July – compared to $1.1m during 2018, and $543,443 in 2019 when food banks benefited from a commodities surplus created by Donald Trump’s trade wars.

  • In Louisiana, at least one in three people are at risk of hunger, compared to one in five before this crisis, according to Natalie Jayroe, president of South Harvest food bank. “We think it will conservatively cost us $15m for six months … In south Louisiana, we’ve been through our share of disasters but this is different.”

  • The Greater Cleveland food bank could go $4.9m – or 26% – over budget by September. They have stopped buying peanut butter, a high-protein grocery box staple, since the price rose $10 a case.

  • Last week in San Antonio, Texas, an unprecedented 10,000 people showed up in their cars for a pop-up distribution centre – a drive-thru service which typically attracted 400 before the layoffs. That day, 25 semi-trucks of food were handed out, much of it to newly laid off hospitality staff whose last paycheck was already gone, according to Eric Cooper, president of the food bank.

As demand rises, Cooper warns that supplies will run short: “The only thing we can do is ration and give families less … I would challenge our federal government to put systems in place that allow for wasted food to go to families we are feeding. It’s unconscionable.”

As the coronavirus economic hurt intensifies, federal aid is slowly starting to trickle down to ordinary people, including the $1,200 stimulus payment for those with bank accounts.

The rescue packages did expand the food stamps programme (Snap), but the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has so far refused to fully extend eligibility using available disaster powers. “This would help tackle hunger and stimulate the economy, but for some reason the USDA isn’t using all the tools in its box,” said Vollinger from Frac.

It’s unclear when or how the country will return to some resemblance of normal, meanwhile America’s hunger crisis is likely to last months – or longer.

Kristin Warzocha of Greater Cleveland said: “I already fear we’re not reaching everyone who needs help, and we haven’t seen anything yet! We will do everything in our power, but philanthropy is not going to fix this crisis.” your social media marketing partner