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The Pandemic May Be Waning, but Food Insecurity Remains

food bank volunteer carrying large stack of boxes
Volunteers pack boxes at the Denver distribution center. Need in Food Bank of the Rockies’ service areas increased by upwards of 80% during the pandemic, and continues to be higher than average. // Photo by Caitlyn Barnett

Since March 2020, our focus at Food Bank of the Rockies has been on serving our partners and clients with tenacity and strength as life as we all knew it was repeatedly and totally upended due to the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020, the need for food in our service areas increased by upwards of 60%, with some months climbing as high as 80%. We were able to meet that demand head on thanks to the generosity of donors, grants, government programs such as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, and the time and effort of our incredible volunteers and staff members. We cannot express our gratitude to all of them—all of you—enough.

Today, as more become vaccinated, jobs return, and restrictions are lifted, it would be easy to think that the burden of food insecurity will also be lifted off the shoulders of our clients. While this might be the case for some, it is not the case for many:

  • The national unemployment rate still teeters around 6%, and is even higher within BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities: 9.7% for the Black population and 7.9% for the Latinx population.
  • Grocery prices have skyrocketed in the past year, with poultry up nearly 11%, beef up 20%, pork up 8.5%, eggs up 10%, and cereals and fresh vegetables up 4%.
  • Nationally, over 42 million people, including 13 million children, are expected to experience food insecurity in 2021, according to Feeding America. That is seven million more than in 2019, when the food insecurity rate in the U.S. was the lowest it had been in over 20 years.
  • In Colorado, one in eight people currently experience food insecurity—around 668,480 people.
  • In Wyoming, one in eight people currently experience food insecurity—around 74,690 people.
  • Gas prices have increased 22.5% year over year, and are expected to reach an average high of $2.78 per gallon this summer—up 34% from 2020.
  • Home prices have skyrocketed. There were double-digit percentage increases in home prices over last year in nearly 90% of metro areas tracked by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), raising the national median sale price for existing homes to $319,200. In Colorado, that number is even higher: As of May 2021, the median price of a single-family home in Colorado reached $502,000. In Wyoming, the median price of a home is currently $391,283.

 

Despite millions of people still facing food insecurity as the pandemic wanes, many federal- and state-funded COVID-19 relief programs recently ended. On June 30, 2021, the moratorium on rental evictions ended, as did the moratorium on lender foreclosures on loans backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Veteran’s Affairs, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. On June 19, 2021, Wyoming ceased its participation in the American Rescue Plan, through which the federal government authorized an extra $300 a week in jobless aid and extended pandemic unemployment assistance for the self-employed; Colorado opted to stay with the program until its expiration date of September 6. Come September 30, 2021, the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Flexibilities for Federal Student Loans will also end.

“We are depending on community support now more than ever to alleviate food insecurity levels, which remain high,” said Erin Pulling, president and CEO of Food Bank of the Rockies. “Since 2019, we’ve quadrupled the amount of food we’re purchasing, and we recently increased it even more by purchasing 1.2 million pounds of produce each month for our new FRESH program. When COVID hit, we decided it was time for Food Bank of the Rockies to be bold in its response. The need hasn’t gone away, and neither has our commitment to our community. We’re here for the long haul thanks to our donors and volunteers.”

a farmers to families food box
The USDA Farmers to Families program helped meet the increased need for food during the pandemic. The program ended on May 31, 2021, and is being replaced by the Food Bank’s FRESH program. // Photo by Caitlyn Barnett

At Food Bank of the Rockies, we have greatly benefited from various federal aid programs put in place during the pandemic, and are now tasked with finding new means to continue to best serve our communities in Colorado and Wyoming. This specifically includes:

  • Replacing the Farmers to Families Food Box program with the new FRESH program at a cost of $300,000 a month. FRESH will provide 1.2 million pounds of free produce each month along with direct deliveries to Hunger Relief Partners.
  • Increasing the amount of fresh produce we provide to represent 50% of the total food distributed.
  • Expanding the Culturally Relevant Food Initiative (CRFI) at a cost of $1 million a year. The pilot program, funded via a generous grant from Feeding America, served eight counties in Colorado and Wyoming between August of 2020 and May of 2021. Moving forward, CRFI will be available to partners throughout our entire 53 county service area.
  • Expanding our home delivery service of EverGreen Boxes™ to homebound adults over the age of 60.
  • Continuing to increase nutritious food options throughout all of our programs while managing increases in item costs and freight expenses.
  • Bringing Mobile Pantries to communities across our service areas to ensure we equitably reach each and every neighbor in need of food assistance, regardless of location.
  • Increasing support to our Hunger Relief Partners to reach and serve communities located within food deserts.
  • Preparing more to-go meals and snacks for children and unhoused community members in our commercial kitchen, which currently makes and distributes upwards of 1,700 and snacks daily.
  • Developing new programs and staffing new positions to ensure Food Bank of the Rockies remains relevant, sustainable, and effective to all people in all of our service areas.

 

The truth is, the pandemic is not yet over for the many millions of people who experience uncertainty surrounding food. Indeed, it will likely take several years for food insecurity levels to recover; after the Great Recession, it took nearly a decade for food insecurity to return to pre-Recession levels, and even then, 37 million people were still at risk of hunger.

Regardless of how quickly economic conditions improve, Food Bank of the Rockies and our millions of clients continue to need the same level of support we received during the pandemic—from individual and corporate donors, government and private sector partnerships, and hard-working volunteers—to achieve our mission of eliminating hunger in our service areas by providing equitable, culturally relevant, nutritious food to everyone who needs it.

a child eating watermelon
One of the Food Bank’s initiatives is to increase the amount of fresh produce provided to clients to represent 50% of the total food distributed // Photo sourced via Shutterstock

“We are committed to supporting our Hunger Relief Partners on our shared journey of becoming inclusive and culturally responsive organizations, and to continue to provide nutritious, fresh food to all clients,” said Steven Kullberg, COO at Food Bank of the Rockies. “We understand that logistics are a major challenge and expense for our Partners, so we have redesigned our systems to support the delivery of 67% additional pallets each month, reducing time and expense for our Partners to pick up products at our distribution centers.”

To help us continue to help others in as impactful a way as possible, please consider donating to Food Bank of the Rockies or volunteering with Food Bank of the Rockies. Every dollar and every hour counts to answer the challenge of hunger. Thank you so much for your support; we couldn’t do what we do without you.

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