The shift in the federally funded food program for students comes as expanded unemployment and SNAP benefits providing food assistance as part of COVID-19 relief expire and turbulent economic conditions continue. The Food Bank Council of Michigan is projecting increased demand for food will rise again over the next few months and last through June 2022.
In 2018, the most recent year available, 13.4 percent of the people living in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston and Monroe counties served by Gleaners or 566,270 residents, including 136,340 children, were food insecure, according to Feeding America.
Based on data from the national association, by the end of the year, the number of people needing food assistance in those counties is expected to rise 37 percent, adding another 212,000 adults and children, Gleaners said.
Washtenaw County is looking at a 40 percent increase by year’s end, based on Feeding America estimates, said Eileen Spring, president and CEO of Ann Arbor food bank and rescue Food Gatherers.
Families that are food insecure who were not six months ago are making up a significant part of the increase in the region, she said. Food access has also been compromised during the pandemic. For health reasons, some can’t access food safely anymore because they can’t take public transportation or shop in the grocery store.
Food Gatherers, which was operating on a $4 million budget at the beginning of the year, has spent more on food procurement during the first four months of the pandemic than it did in all of 2019, Spring said. It ramped up distribution through existing pantry partners employing drive-through models, and it’s added new distribution sites in high-need areas.
“For the foreseeable future, there will be climbing demand and less food to meet it unless the feds act,” she said.