The coronavirus pandemic that has already cost more than 22,000 American lives is also causing many to go hungry. Thousands have been forced to wait for hours in long lines at food banks across the country.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, reported a 98 percent increase in demand.
It’s a time of unprecedented demand everywhere, but the need may be most critical in rural America, reports correspondent Janet Shamlian. That is where pantries are closing because food is scarce and also volunteers who staff them are worried about their own health.
In east Texas, Donna Furlong and her husband, Leonard, tell a story of how little food they have that is hard to hear: “Sometimes we just don’t have it,” said Donna. “So, he’ll go one day without eating, so I eat. And I’ll go a day eating, and vice versa.”
The couple who are trading off who gets a meal relies on disability payments, food stamps, and a pantry that closed in March because it could no longer get food.
Shamlian asked, “Where will you go now for food? What pantry will you utilize?”
“There isn’t one that we can go to,” Donna replied.
Jasper County, Texas had six food pantries a few weeks ago. Now, there are only three, to serve a county of roughly 35,000, where almost 20 percent live in poverty and many just lost their jobs. It’s a densely-wooded region of almost 1,000 square miles. Some people must drive 40 miles to get to the food bank in Kirbyville.
Bob Chandler, who has run the Kirbyville Christian Outreach pantry for more than 30 years, has never seen demand like this. “No, it’s double, everything we’re doing,” he said. “It’s double, double, double. Just about every week, it doubles from one time to another.”
Pantries in rural areas are closing, experts say, because they tend to be staffed by senior volunteers.
“For their safety, many of them are unable to come in [and] work at those pantries, and therefore those pantries are not operational,” said Ami McReynolds of Feeding America.
Those pantries that are getting food aren’t reaching everyone.
Donna and Leonard Furlong live an hour away from this pantry, and they can’t afford the gas. “It’s humiliating, you know, having to admit that, yeah,” she said. “We’re starving, and things are tough, but we’re not the only ones.”