WASHINGTON (ABC7) — Food insecurity has become a symptom of economic challenges for many in the DMV during the pandemic.
Since COVID began, the U.S. Census Bureau has been tracking how the economic crisis has been impacting families. In the D.C. area for the final week of August, 26.4% of families reported losing or expecting to lose income over the next four weeks. A food shortage in households totaled 9.3%, a little below the national average, and the difficulty of paying for regular household expenses reported was at 28.6%.
Before the pandemic, 400,000 people in the DMV were considered food insecure. The Capital Area Food Bank released its 2020 hunger report revealing that the number is soaring with a projected 45-60% increase meaning that an additional 200,000 will not know where their next meal is going to come from. The report was released in the summer to get an idea of the number of food insecurities in the area and the root causes behind it.
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"It became clear over the course of a few months that the report was needed, not just because the numbers of people who are hungry and food insecure were rising, but COVID was exposing fault lines and inequities that have existed in communities all along. The report helps in several ways and highlights the various communities down to a census track showing where the existing need is and the growing need, which allows us to provide food in those areas and the best partners to get the food to those areas," said Radha Muthiah, CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank.
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"You have the short-term needs and immediate needs of families that are going hungry and need access to food. This has been a long-term issue we've had with food deserts across the region. We've had people who are hungry and food insecure for years which is a part of more systemic challenges we're facing. With the government shutdown last year and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we see spikes in what those needs are," said Jack McDougle, President & CEO of the Greater Washington Board.
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Lines stretched around down Temple Hill Road as hundreds of cars waited Tuesday at St. Stephen Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Maryland as volunteers distributed canned food, fresh vegetables, and milk to 8,000 families.
The Mission of Love of Charities food pantry in Capitol Heights, Maryland has seen a steady stream of people arriving at their doors to pick up food for their families.
Deborah Martinez is the CEO of Mission of Love Charities, which has been around since 1991. In the past, they have served mostly homeless individuals but with the pandemic, a new demographic is showing up.
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"We're seeing people who worked in the construction and hospitality industry, people who have actually in some cases been furloughed from some organizations that can't afford to pay them because of their circumstances," said Martinez.
A food insecurity heat map from the Capital Area Food Bank, shows the areas surrounding the Mission food pantry are high in red areas displaying that more than 20 percent of the population doesn't have enough food.
"These are mothers and fathers, these are grandparents, these are sisters and brothers, these are people in the community that has never needed to ask for anything, they're the everyday working people that live in America that are just asking for a little bit of help," said Martinez.
Fairfax County has seen a dramatic shift in the number of people needing help. The county is now at the top of the list for needing support after it was previously deemed an area that didn't require much help.
Linda Patterson, executive director for the Lorton Community Action Center, described the changes she's seen in recent months during ABC7's Town Hall Tuesday. Patterson said what she's seen since the pandemic is people who have come to their doors have been managing just fine until the pandemic hit.
Patterson said LCAC has seen an 18% increase in the amount of food donated by the public with 50,000 pounds of food received on average.