In-person learning. Hugs from loved ones. Attending concerts, festivals, and other events. The distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines has helped millions of Americans return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles. However, there is one pandemic-related hardship that isn’t going away any time soon: hunger.
In February 2020, the YMCA of Rome & Floyd County in Georgia provided 2,000 meals a month to local residents. Following local shut downs in March, the demand increased drastically. Y staff and volunteers needed to provide 20,000 meals a month to meet the community’s need. Unfortunately, what occurred in Rome last year is an all-too-common story. America is no stranger to hunger, but the onset of the pandemic led to a sharp increase in food insecurity, putting unprecedented pressure on the nonprofit organizations who provide meals and groceries for those in need.
For example, the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South went from providing 700 daily meals for children to 23,000 daily meals to families and children. In the first six months of the pandemic, local YMCAs across the country served more than 37 million meals and snacks. In total, between March 2020 and February 2021, the Y experienced a 155% YoY increase in the distribution of meals and snacks.
While the broad rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and a slowly improving job market may spur feelings of a return to normalcy, unfortunately, hunger rates are expected to remain high in the months and likely years to come. For context, hunger hasn’t been this high since the Great Recession, and it took eight years to recover from that.
While many associate the Y with summer camps, fitness centers, and swimming lessons, its hunger relief programs play a pivotal role year-round, including the critical summer months when children are most at risk. Given its footprint and infrastructure, serving nearly 10,000 communities across the nation, the Y is uniquely qualified to offer support to many facing hunger, particularly those who are turning to meal sites for the first time.
Combined with its size and reach, its wide array of programs and services enables Ys to have deep-rooted and far-reaching relationships with community members. These existing relationships and knowledge of the communities in which they operate enabled Ys to quickly pivot, whether it be repurposing staff, or forming vital partnerships with local business to offer hunger relief. Partnerships and support from corporations, restaurants, area businesses, churches, farms, housing authorities, and local governments were fundamental in helping the Y meet the increased need across the country. Thanks to this critical support, the Y established more than 11,000 sites, ensuring that children, families, and seniors were able to access healthy meals.
This type of quick thinking, combined with imperative partnerships and financial contributions from businesses, both large and small, have provided Ys across the country the resources they need to meet the increased demand for food. Today, the Y continues to provide 3.5 million healthy meals to families and children, plus four million pounds of groceries, each month.
As vaccination rates rise and the start of our new normal begins, it’s easy to think we’re out of the woods, but many families are still facing hardships when it comes to food insecurity. While rates have been decreasing in recent months, there are still much higher levels of need in comparison to pre-pandemic numbers—numbers which aren’t expected to drop to pre-pandemic rates for several years. These vital efforts to help those in need would not—and cannot—be possible without the help and support of partners on both a local and national level. Recognizing a consistent increased need, organizations like the Y, which provide necessary meals and snacks to those community members facing hunger, will only continue to feel the pressure of these colossal rates.
To help ensure all families have the healthy, nutritious food needed to reach their full potential, visit ymca.org for more information on the Y’s hunger relief efforts and how you can contribute to the Y in support of this essential work.
Stacey McDaniel is an anti-hunger initiatives specialist for YMCA of the USA.