Bay Area hunger crisis on the rise

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many societal problems that already existed to the forefront, and hunger in the Bay Area is one of those issues that has significantly increased in the past few months.

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has seen the number of households they distribute food to double since before the pandemic. Specifically, 32,000 households relied on the SFM Food Bank every week before the pandemic, and now 60,000 households every week depend on them, according to the COVID-19 Hunger Report that was released by food bank this month. Additionally, before the pandemic, SFM distributed 855,000 meals per week, now they give out 1.3 million meals per week.

“As soon as we started the emergency pop-ups, people have been coming and saying that this is their first time at the pantries. They recently lost their job, or their children are at home, not getting meals from school anymore,” said Tina Gonzales, the SFM director of community partnerships.

To meet these needs, SFM has opened 28 emergency pop-up pantries across San Francisco and Marin County, started bringing weekly groceries to 12,000 seniors sheltering at home, helped thousands apply for CalFresh (food stamps), and advocated for pandemic-EBT benefits.?

“We imagined we’d be out serving communities for a month or two (with the pop-ups). We are now in our sixth month for the pop-up pantries. We don’t imagine we’re closing them anytime soon,” Gonzales said.

“We know Shelter in Place will eventually go away, but that does not mean people will then have access to the food they need. They will still be going through hard times and will need to access the food through our programming,” she said.

The Hunger Report also revealed a large surge in seniors who need food from the SFM Food Bank. Before the pandemic, they delivered to 260 seniors and people with disabilities, now they deliver to 12,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

“One third of our pantry network is still closed due to COVID-19. Some of the seniors that are coming to our COVID response program used to go to a pantry in their neighborhood, but it’s closed right now. Some of the churches, schools, and community centers have not been able to reopen their regular pantry,” Gonzales said. “Other seniors we just deliver food to because they can’t be out in the community and are sheltering in place,” she said.

SFM Executive Director Paul Ash explained the detrimental effect that unemployment caused by COVID-19 has had on hunger in the San Francisco Bay Area in a news release. “The economic ripple effects of COVID-19 have only exacerbated the hunger crisis that already existed,” he said. “Historic levels of unemployment are driving many to the Food Bank for the first time.”

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