New food insecurity numbers give first look at impact of pandemic

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 5:44 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The long lines of people waiting for food were a fairly common sight throughout the pandemic, and now, the first look at food need during the pandemic is available.

The United States Department of Agriculture released food insecurity numbers for 2020. If people are food insecure, that means they may not know where their next meal is coming from.

According to the data, that applied, at some point, to about 10 percent of people in the United States, or close to 14 million families.

In Texas, and Central Texas specifically, the numbers are a bit higher. Derrick Chubbs, president and CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank said they’re closer to 17 percent for Bell and McLennan county.

Cara Cliburn Allen, assistant research director for the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty said surprisingly, the numbers didn’t change much compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“The year was unprecedented, both in the sense of the pandemic, and also in this sense, we’re doing things that we’ve never done before, to make sure that households had access to food” Cliburn Allen said. “We had the flexibility and capability to do that. So on the one hand, we were surprised, but we were also encouraged that what we’re doing.”

Cliburn Allen said the data shows the initiatives like mass food distribution, meal delivery programs and extra funding and support from local and federal governments helped people to get by.

“I think we absolutely mitigated a potential disaster caused by the pandemic,” Cliburn Allen said. “You know, we can’t forecast what those numbers would look like, but at the beginning of the pandemic, we can all remember those iconic images of cars lined up at food pantries, food distribution centers getting food because families needed it.”

Chubbs said the numbers are encouraging, but there is still need in communities around the state and around the country. He said based on data they’ve seen so far, he expects food insecurity to continue to be high.

Chubbs said they’re working on their own infrastructure to anticipate that future need.

“We’re hiring additional employees to help us with those mobile pantries that we’re moving in different places,” Chubbs said. “But most importantly, we’re working more diligently to partner with other organizations that can help us identify those areas.”

Chubbs said the food bank is piloting a meal delivery program in Austin, and they’re looking to partner even more closely with local food banks, since they know exactly where the need is in communities.

Cliburn Allen said moving forward, the collaborative will be keeping a close eye on food insecurity. She said there are still some supports in place, like the child tax credit and expansion of SNAP benefits. However, Cliburn Allen said they are in support of making some programs permanent, like their Meals-to-You food delivery service.

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