Derek Thompson: The economy is ruined. It didn’t have to be this way.
But the worst may be yet to come, thanks to the ongoing recession. Regional food banks—which are intended to be safety nets, not main sources of food—fear that they won’t be able to meet the swelling need.
“It’s hard to predict how long this is going to last, but we are looking at beyond this year and into next year in terms of the demand,” Young said. “We’re really focused on sustainability, because no food bank can sustain—” he paused. “This is not what a food bank was designed to do.”
According to the COVID Impact Survey, conducted by researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago, California’s food insecurity level more than doubled between March and April, from approximately 11 percent of the state’s population to approximately a quarter, or about 10 million people.
“This is an unbelievably large increase in food insecurity,” said Hilary Hoynes, a public policy and economics expert at the University of California at Berkeley. The study measured food insecurity by asking survey participants how often they ran out of food during the week and couldn’t afford to purchase more.
By comparison, during the Great Recession of 2008, food insecurity increased nationally by just 3.5 percent. Hoynes predicts that some Californians will soon struggle to afford food for the first time, as people who have been laid off or furloughed burn through their stimulus checks and stopgaps come to an end. California’s holds on rent payments ended in May, for example, and the federal $600 unemployment payment boost is scheduled to end in July.
In neighboring Yolo County, the food bank has been making deliveries since March to elderly and medically vulnerable residents who are sheltering in place. According to Joy Cohan, director of philanthropic engagement at Yolo Food Bank, 750 households received boxes in the delivery program’s first week. By mid-May, the food bank was delivering boxes to 3,000 households per week. In total, the food bank now feeds approximately 45,000 people, about 60 percent more than before the coronavirus pandemic, Cohan said.
The food bank also packs boxes for Project Roomkey, a statewide initiative created to provide homeless people with temporary shelter in hotels. Each week, approximately 300 participants in Yolo County receive food that can be prepared without a kitchen, such as instant noodles. Some boxes contain toys and special treats for homeless children.
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There’s an intensifying scramble to get enough food. Yolo Food Bank spent about $200,000 per month on food and operations before the pandemic. By the end of April, that had jumped to approximately $350,000 per month. According to Cohan, the food bank is now spending more per month than it is raising. Partnerships have helped: For example, in order to transport all of the boxes requested at just one low-income senior housing complex in West Sacramento (part of Yolo County), the food bank wrangled the help of a local church, which owns a truck large enough to deliver some 50 boxes at a time.