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Despite better times, CSRA’s food bank seeing high demand

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 12:15 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels in the CSRA and elsewhere.

And experts warn that the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile.

Many food banks across the country, including the CSRA’s Golden Harvest, are reporting a gradual decrease this year. But the need is still higher than it was before the pandemic — 15% higher in the case of Golden Harvest.

“The number of families, children, and seniors we are serving is still very elevated,” said Amy Breitmann, president and CEO of Golden Harvest Food Bank in Augusta.

Bretmann said many families in the CSRA are making hard choices between child care, medical expenses, transportation costs and putting food on their table.  

“In fact, 1 in 7 of our neighbors still struggle to get enough to eat for themselves and their families,” Breitmann said. “Some are working through lingering impacts of COVID-19 like supply chain disruptions and children out of school. Others are still recovering from the financial fallout of a job loss or medical crisis.”

In the CSRA, food insecurity was high even before the pandemic, Breitmann said.

She said 22 of the 25 counties served by the food bank are classified as food deserts — places where it’s hard to buy affordable high-quality fresh food — and rural food insecurity is extremely high.

Need surged as pandemic hit

When the nationwide closures of offices and schools began in March 2020, the impact on food banks was immediate. Feeding America-affiliated food banks like Golden Harvest distributed 1.1 billion pounds of food in the first quarter on 2020; in the second quarter, the number jumped 42% to more than 1.6 billion pounds. The third quarter saw a smaller 5% increase up to nearly 1.7 billion pounds of food. While distributions declined from the end of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, recent data suggests that the decline has leveled off.

An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country revealed a clear downward trend in the amount of food handed out across the country, starting in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and closed sectors of the economy began to reopen.

But Katie Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of Feeding America — a network of 200 food banks, including Golden Harvest — said experts are worried food insecurity “could increase all over again if too many shoes drop.”

Those potential setbacks include the advance of the delta variant of the coronavirus, the winter flu season, and the gradual expiration of several COVID-19-specific protections such as the eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits.

The pandemic hasn’t just raised the need for food banks; it’s also made it harder for the nonprofits’ to help the community.

“We lost 52,000 volunteer hours due to COVID-19 and have only in recent months opened back up for volunteers,” Breitmann said. “After having National Guard troops on mission with us for more than 15 months, we are now relying on our staff to distribute food to these rural areas.”

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