With food prices continuing to rise, regional food banks face more challenges than ever before to provide meals to the communities they serve. During Action Against Hunger Month, regional food banks offer simple ways to get involved in the Zero Hunger movement.
“Maryland was already a very expensive state to live in the pre-COVID period, and obviously, with the price hikes, that made it even more difficult for many families to make ends meet,” said Carmen del Guercio. President and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank (MFB).
Before the pandemic, MFB bought about 12 million pounds of food a year, and now they buy about 25 million pounds each year, Del Guercio said.
“We are now paying about 88 cents a pound for 25 million pounds,” he said. “Before COVID, we were paying about 45 cents, so double the pound for twice the cost. And you can do the math. It’s a very big increase in our budget every year that we have to take on and support that demand.”
MFB’s most recent research report, “Food Insecurity in Maryland,” It shows how current economic conditions have prevented individuals and families from achieving economic stability.
“One of the data points we’re looking at is the number of Marylanders who say they are having a hard time making ends meet,” Del Guercio said.
In December 2021, about 8% of Maryland residents said they were experiencing financial hardship, and in May 2022, the report found the number had risen to 32%, based on MFB’s analysis of June 2022 US data from the US Census Bureau’s Maryland Household Pulse Survey. Del Guercio said this statistic gives a sense of the scale of the increase people are feeling as a result of inflationary pressure.
Additionally, the survey indicated that in June 2022, 50% of Maryland households said that their children sometimes or often did not eat enough because food was not within reach.
During Hunger Action Month, there are a number of ways in which people can support the work of Maryland food bankserving all Maryland counties except for Prince George and Montgomery counties, and Capital Region Food Bank (CAFB), which serves the greater metropolitan area — including Prince George and Montgomery counties — as well as Alexandria and communities in Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William counties in Virginia.
One of the easiest ways to support the efforts of our regional food banks is to use social media.
Food delivery campaigns are beneficial and no food bank will reject people’s donation of canned goods and other non-perishable food items, but the virtual food campaign will take their efforts to a new level.
“We are constantly in touch with our neighbors to get feedback on what kinds of food they want, whether it’s health or cultural,” Del Guercio said. “So what the virtual food engine allows us to do with your money is make sure we buy exactly the products our neighbors need.”
In addition to harnessing the power of social media, a virtual food engine can also tap into the purchasing power of a food bank.
“We can turn one dollar into two meals,” he said. “We used to say we could turn it into three meals, but unfortunately, with inflation, we can’t say that anymore. But our purchasing power allows us to stretch that dollar much further, so that’s a double whammy there.”
The MFB is also encouraging advocacy as Del Guercio said food insecurity was a problem many people did not fully appreciate before the pandemic.
“I think if there’s a little bit of a silver lining that has resulted from the pandemic, it’s the fact that images have been going into people’s living rooms in long queues at food banks across the country,” he said, “to levels that the industry probably hasn’t seen historically.”
As a result, del Guercio said he hopes there will be more people who understand the scale of the need, and who will do one or both things.
“Advocate to local legislators to make sure they promote programs that provide support to families in need, and inform the people they interact with daily — their social network — to educate others about the level of need,” he said.
The most traditional way to help your food-insecure neighbors is to volunteer.
Both MFB and CAFB welcome individuals, groups and families to help sort and pack food and participate in a variety of essential tasks to keep your neighbors fed during a period of increased need across the region.
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