(NEW YORK) — The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 400,000 people and killed at least 13,000 in the United States so far.
Another serious consequence of the outbreak: food insecurity.
With sky-rocketing unemployment and millions of children unable to receive free or reduced-price school lunches, more people are now facing hunger because of this crisis, according to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S.
Feeding America officials report they are seeing a massive increase in demand. Approximately 37 million people are food insecure, including 11 million children and 5.5 million seniors.
In addition, they are also seeing that during this crisis, many families will find themselves needing help for the first time.
“I’ve never witnessed a system being more strained,” Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “Our estimations are that we will need to serve an additional 17.1 million people through this crisis, on top of an already 37-40 million people that we were serving before.”
“For the first time probably in our history, we’ve had to turn some people away,” she said. “We don’t want to do that, ever.”
Due to this crisis, ABC is launching Day of Hope, in partnership with Feeding America, to highlight food banks and food pantry personnel working on the front lines, and to share food resources with all Americans who need it.
Learn more about Feeding America’s work and get involved at FeedingAmerica.org/FeedTheLove.
On the front lines at food banks
Across the country, determined volunteers are urgently responding to the demand at food banks by making sure people don’t go hungry. But as the demand has increased, supplies are dwindling and volunteers are scarce in some communities.
In some areas, the National Guard has been deployed to close the gap.
At the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Lloyd Vines, a senior volunteer coordinator, explained how their staff has shrunk in size since the pandemic hit.
“Normally we are relying on 100-200 volunteers every day,” said Vines. “For the past couple weeks it’s been myself and about eight other staff members.”
Yet no matter how hectic it’s been, Vines and many committed volunteers like him are still staying positive.
“We’re so tired,” he said, “but our spirits are high.”
Volunteering on the front lines during the pandemic comes with an increased risk of contracting the virus. It’s something that many volunteers are aware of and are taking precautions against — but it hasn’t stopped them from continuing their critical work.
“I know it’s a scary time. I’m not a medical person, but I want to help in any way that I can,” said Jill Ash, a lead packaging volunteer at “Feed More” in Richmond, Virginia. “Regardless of any danger surrounding us … I will be here until I’m not needed anymore.”
At the “Fulfill” food bank in New Jersey, 51-year-old Diana Tennant, whose job was to go out into the community and put food stamps into the hands of those who needed them, lost her battle with COVID-19.
“Diana died making sure people who needed the food the most got that food,” said Kim Guadagno, the CEO and president of Fulfill. “The people who work in this building are unsung heroes. They put their lives on the line every day, and Diana is proof of that.”
Despite the risk, the Fulfill Food Bank and many others across the country are continuing their mission to make sure no one goes hungry during this pandemic.
Feeding the love
Feeding America has taken steps during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure no one goes hungry by providing resources for all Americans.
Among their efforts so far, Feeding America has launched the COVID-19 Response Fund, a national food and fundraising effort to support people facing hunger and the food banks who help them; they have worked with government leaders to ensure their emergency response to the coronavirus includes strong support and flexibility for federal nutrition programs; and they have provided emergency grants to food banks to support local response efforts.
Now, through Day of Hope, they are encouraging others to help by sharing food bank messaging online and supporting food banks in communities impacted by the pandemic.
Visit their website here for more information.
Other ways to help
In addition to the recommendations that Feeding America lists on their website, Good Morning America put together a list of other ways to help those in need during this time.
Here are a few:
1. Check in with neighbors, friends, and families that may be in need of food.
2. Shop responsibly, don’t hoard.
3. If you need help, get help. In addition to food banks, Feeding America’s website can link you with other resources here.
4. If you can, give. Find out how to deliver food safely to a local food bank or donate money here. Call your local food bank first to find out what their food donation policy is right now.
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