Nearly a year ago today, the White House announced the first national Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in 50 years to unite America to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. During that time, I addressed how food insecurity disproportionately affects people of color, older adults, and people with disabilities. Rising food and fuel prices undoubtedly accounted for the increased number of families seeking support from food banks.
September is Hunger Action Month and it is a time to raise awareness about food insecurity in our communities. According to Feeding America, 658,470 Virginia residents are experiencing hunger. A heartbreaking statistic to note: 182,170 are children.
Six months ago today, on March 15, recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) felt the sting of the rising costs of day-to-day living and food inflation when the federal government terminated the SNAP Emergency Allotment program. SNAP recipients would no longer receive the second monthly allotment they relied on to supplement their food income during the public health emergency.
As a result, Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) prepared for this dramatic increase in residents seeking food assistance, knowing that the end of SNAP Emergency Allotment benefits would affect approximately 213,000 qualifying Northern Virginia residents.
According to The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia Insight Region Report, "In Northern Virginia, seven percent of families — 20,000 households with one or more children under the age of 18 — live in poverty: their annual income falls below the minimum set by the federal government for what they need to feed, shelter, and clothe their families." These statistics highlight the personal cost of inflation in Northern Virginia and represent families' monthly difficulties in choosing between paying for basic necessities, including food, electricity, clothing for children, or rent.
Northern Virginia Family Service’s Hunger Resource Center bridges the gap between decreased food allotment benefits and increased prices. The Hunger Resource Center annually provides healthy and nutritious food to nearly 5,000 residents from more than 1,300 families in the Greater Prince William community.
This year, bridging the gap has become imperative for the people we support. High food prices have become a harsh reality for families with low and middle incomes, as well as older adults on fixed incomes. The staggering 10% year-over-year increase in food costs has created an unsettling imbalance, further exacerbated by the weight of housing, childcare, and healthcare expenses and the financial strains of adults supporting multi-generational living arrangements. The struggle to meet basic needs has reached a critical point.
Hunger and food insecurity are chronic crises for many, and the depths of this need are growing, especially as food prices continue to increase.
At NVFS, we are grateful to partner with grocery stores, farmers' markets, corporations, and individuals who give wholeheartedly. Without their donations and support, we would be running on empty.
While food banks can help families avoid the difficult choice between putting food on the table or paying their household bills, we must also tackle the broader issues of food insecurity and address the systemic factors that create barriers to financial security: income inequality, housing and childcare costs that are unattainable, health disparities, and more. We need to delve deeper into the broader issues, listen and work together to find sustainable solutions that eliminate the need for food distribution centers in the first place.
Stephanie Berkowitz is the President & CEO at Northern Virginia Family Service, a human services organization recognized locally and nationally as a leader and innovator of social impact.