Friday September 22nd, 2023 8:24AM

Food Insecurity is Down. So Why Are Lines at Food Pantries Longer Than Ever?

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 23, 2023--

Over the past decade, food insecurity rates declined significantly across our community. Ten years ago, one in six north Georgia neighbors – about 900,000 people – identified as food insecure, lacking consistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. Today, one in ten (600,000) are food insecure.

“We’ve reduced food insecurity by one-third in a decade. What caused this change? Economic growth coming out of the great recession played a central role. SNAP and other benefit programs were enhanced. The extraordinary public-private response to the pandemic flooded communities with resources and prevented large increases in poverty and food insecurity,” explains Kyle Waide, CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Alongside macro-economic factors, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the network of partners grew dramatically, quadrupling distribution of charitable food.

“We now provide 100 million meals annually, or two million meals per week, to vulnerable neighbors across 29 counties,” continued Waide. “Last month, we passed an extraordinary milestone, distributing our one billionth meal in our 43-year history. As a result of this growth, fewer people are hungry. Despite the drop in food insecurity, demand for food assistance grew 40% in the past year. We’re serving as many people today as we did at the height of the pandemic.”

So, if fewer people are hungry, why are lines longer than ever at food pantries?

For starters, the Food Bank improved how it served neighbors. Beyond providing more food, it now provides healthier food. In 2022, the Food Bank distributed 25 million pounds of produce and 17 million pounds of animal proteins, the latter of which was more than any food bank in the country.

“We provide food more conveniently, including offering home delivery in some communities. We connect neighbors with other resources, like nutrition education and assistance in applying for public benefits. Lines are longer because the products and services we offer are better,” expressed Waide. “The decline in food insecurity rates hides a deeper truth. Too many of our neighbors struggle to meet their basic needs and rely on food pantries to survive.”

One third of the US population live in households making less than $55,000 per year. These neighbors have incomes that won’t stretch to cover the rising costs of housing and healthcare, a deficit compounded by widespread inflation in recent years. Every month, families face impossible decisions, choosing to skip medications, put off paying utility bills, and delay rent payments for as long as they can, just to survive. Healthy food options become less accessible, leading to poor nutrition and health. They are unable to build any savings to protect them from personal crises, like a family illness or death, a car or home repair or a job loss. Planning for a better future becomes impossible when all you’re trying to do each day is to make it to tomorrow.

“When so many neighbors are vulnerable, it means our community is just as vulnerable. As lines grow longer at food pantries, so too are more people at risk of developing chronic health conditions,” adds Waide. “More kids will not realize their full potential in school. More employers will struggle to find enough workers. Our community will grow weaker.”

What do we do about it?

“First, let’s change the way we think about the problem. When we see someone at a food pantry, we often think about helping that individual person become self-sufficient. We seek to help them learn a new skill, get a new job, improve their health, or budget more effectively,” continues Waide. “While those might be good objectives, we won’t build a more resilient community unless we also address the larger barriers facing so many neighbors – housing affordability, healthcare access, high-quality affordable childcare, and access to healthy food, to name a few. We need more solutions that address these barriers systemically, in addition to supporting people individually.”

“Second, let’s recognize what works and invest more fully in those solutions. This means getting more resources and supports to lower-income families. For example, expanding the Child Tax Credit in 2021 reduced child poverty across the country by 30%. During the pandemic, free school meals were made available to all public-school students, not just those who ordinarily qualify for free lunch, and this significantly reduced child food insecurity. In 2021, enhancements to SNAP increased monthly benefits to families by 21%, lifting millions out of poverty.”

Solutions for improving economic and food security are not limited to big government programs. Many private employers are finding ways to support lower-income frontline workers. Practices like raising starting wages, introducing more flexible work schedules, expanding parental leave policies, and adopting inclusive practices like skills-based hiring are making it easier for more workers to find and keep jobs that fully support the needs of their families.

We all have a role to play in working to shorten lines at food pantries. We need more people to support feeding programs and volunteer at food pantries. We need more employers to adopt worker-friendly practices. We need lawmakers to protect policies when they’re proven to lift families out of poverty.

“Now is not the time for austerity. Now is the time to do more to make it easier for families to build stability and invest in their future. Doing so will strengthen our community and ultimately shorten lines at food pantries,” concludes Waide. “In the meantime, the Food Bank will continue to grow, providing food more frequently, conveniently, consistently and equitably to families across our community. We will help them get the resources they need to overcome crisis and build a better tomorrow. But we need everyone’s help in promoting and embracing systemic solutions. Our hope is that in ten years, instead of celebrating how much more food we’ve distributed, we’ll celebrate a more resilient community, where everyone has a chance to thrive, and where the lines at food pantries have all but disappeared.”

For more information or to learn how you can help, visit

About Kyle Waide

Kyle Waide is president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which began in the basement of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1979. In nearly 44 years, the Food Bank has grown to serve 29 counties in metro Atlanta and north Georgia, accounting for approximately 60% of the state’s population. It now operates the largest physical food bank facility in the country.

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SOURCE: Atlanta Community Food Bank

Copyright Business Wire 2023.

PUB: 05/23/2023 08:36 AM/DISC: 05/23/2023 08:34 AM

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