Staggering increase in food insecurity leads advocates to focus on root causes

With the pandemic forcing many families to rely on food banks for assistance, a nonprofit called WhyHunger has been addressing the root cause of food insecurity nationwide.

Alison Meares Cohen, WhyHunger’s senior director of programs, said the need skyrocketed from an estimated 36 million people at the start of the pandemic to about 50 million at its height.

“It’s critical, it’s important, it’s alarming,” she said. “There was a huge decrease for volunteer labor. At the same time, there was a very steep increase in need.”

The nonprofit recently completed a survey with Duke University to better understand how needs have changed, and it found 67% of the over 200 food organizations surveyed saw fewer volunteers.

It also found that 54% of emergency food organizations had to suspend services — including school-related programs — to focus on soliciting and distributing.

The focus now is on giving families the ability to prevent hunger, Cohen said. During the pandemic, 23% of organizations started advocacy and policy efforts addressing the root cause of hunger, which includes fair wages and food waste.

Addressing racial inequities and other barriers presented by COVID-19 has also become a major focus.

“Ultimately, it’s about self-determination for families and communities and how they produce, access and distribute food,” she said.

You can learn more about WhyHunger on its website.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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