BOSTON -As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the country opens up, some Massachusetts residents are still feeling the ripple effects of the pandemic – especially food insecurity. A pandemic impact report from the nonprofit Feeding America estimates Massachusetts had the highest increase of food insecurity in the country between 2018 and 2020, up 59%.
Arlene Fortunato, senior vice president of advancement with the Greater Boston Food Bank, said that need hasn’t let up – and with schools closed during the summer, they anticipate the usual surge in demand. “We have not seen the demand decrease, despite the fact that the vaccine is here and readily available,” said Fortunato. “As we frequently say, there is no vaccine for hunger. And people continue to need the emergency food system more than ever.” Fortunato said the food bank distributed 11 million pounds of nutritious food last month – the largest distribution month in its 40 year history. Food insecurity rates in the pandemic have been highest among adults with children, and Black and LatinX households, according to a new report by the Greater Boston Food Bank and the National Food Access and COVID Research Team.
Fortunato noted the study found 74% of people surveyed said they’d prefer to take care of their families on their own, and not have to use the emergency food system. “The deeper dive into that identifies the issue of stigma as playing a huge part in the decision that people make to forgo access to healthy food,” said Fortunato. She added the food bank has made other options available, such as increasing the number of family meal cards, making food-distribution sites available at places other than pantries, and making folks aware of resources like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal food-assistance program.
Looking back on the last year, Fortunato said she feels there’s been a shift in public perceptions of hunger. “Well, if there’s one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s been for us that people are finally aware that food insecurity is a crisis in this country,” said Fortunato. “And it was well before COVID-19, and it will be beyond.” Information on food assistance can be found by calling 211, or visiting online at gbfb.org .
By Michayla Savitt