Did you know 40% of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover a $400 emergency expense, according to the Federal Reserve? That means nearly half of Americans were unprepared for the economic challenges the COVID-19 pandemic may be putting on their families.

As a result of the pandemic, many Americans are having to choose between paying their monthly bills or buying groceries. Fortunately, Feeding America is helping fill the nutrition gap for families in crisis from coast to coast.

“Lost wages or sudden expenses due to illness will be increasingly burdensome for the millions of people in America who live paycheck to paycheck,” says Anne Swanson, vice president of Feeding America, based in Chicago. “A recent Marist poll by NPR/PBS suggests nearly one in five households are already experiencing a layoff or a reduction in work hours.”

Originally called Second Harvest, Feeding America is a national organization that was established in 1979 to address the hunger crisis in the United States. During its first year of operations, Second Harvest distributed 3.9 million pounds of food from a rented warehouse.

“Forty years later, that same organization – now known as Feeding America – helped provide 4.2 billion meals through a robust network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs nationwide,” Swanson says.

As the nation’s largest hunger-relief and food rescue organization, Feeding America provides services to all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

“We believe no one should ever have to go hungry,” Swanson says. “In every community nationwide, the Feeding America network provides people with the meals they need to pursue a better future.”

See more: Virginia Food Banks and Programs Help Battle Food Insecurity

Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response

Feeding America’s efforts have been increasingly vital in recent weeks since the global COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States in early 2020.

“As the COVID-19 outbreak widens, so too does the number of people in dire need of food – and food banks are under pressure to meet the demand,” Swanson says. “The situation is changing rapidly, but school closures, event cancellations, job disruptions, lack of paid sick leave, and the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on adults age 60 and older and low-income families are contributing to the demands placed on the Feeding America network of 200 food banks.”

Retail food donations are also declining – and they account for 35% of the food distributed through the Feeding America network. Because consumers are stocking up on food, retail establishments are experiencing temporary shortages. Consequently, they have less food to donate.

“In some of our service areas, like Seattle, our food banks are experiencing retail grocery food donation declines,” Swanson says. “We estimate at this time over 30%.”

Despite these challenges, Feeding America continues to work with national food and fund donors to shore up the support needed to respond to increased demand and food shortages. The COVID-19 Response Fund, established on March 13, 2020, supports member food banks responding to the pandemic in their local communities. The fund was started with money from Feeding America’s disaster reserves, and donations to the fund will help ensure food banks have the necessary resources to provide food for people impacted by the pandemic, along with the more than 40 million people the network serves each year.

See more: How the Supply Chain Works: Debunking the Food Shortage Myth

“While $2.65 million is a good start, we know we will need the support from the public, from corporations, foundations and the government to respond to the need,” Swanson says.

Another way Feeding America is responding to the COVID-19 crisis is by partnering with school districts and local government agencies to ensure that the 22 million children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches have access to food when schools are closed.

“The coronavirus pandemic has caused schools to close all across the country,” Swanson says. “Food banks are working with local governments and school districts to help provide meals and additional food for families so they do not go hungry.”

How You Can Help Join Feeding America’s Efforts

Would you like to help food-insecure families in your community and beyond? Consider donating to the COVID-19 Response Fund by visiting www.feedingamerica.org.

“We encourage people who are able to donate to please do so, so they can help their neighbors in need during this critical and tumultuous time,” Swanson says. “By supporting organizations like the Feeding America network of 200 food banks, people will help provide food assistance to millions across the country.”

The money from the COVID-19 Response Fund will help food banks gain the resources they need to serve their communities, whether it’s household items such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies or non-perishable foods.

“In this moment, food banks need to respond quickly and efficiently, and a financial donation enables them to do just that,” Swanson says.

To support your community or affected communities directly, use the Feeding America food bank locator at www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.

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