COVID-19 has had unprecedented effects on countless individuals and industries nationwide.
With many Americans losing their jobs overnight as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, people found themselves and their families suddenly falling under the food insecure umbrella and in need of assistance.
“Everything’s changed because of COVID-19 and food banking is definitely one of many industries that had to change overnight,” Jason Jakubowski, president and CEO of Foodshare, said.
Foodshare is the regional food bank serving Hartford and Tolland counties and works toward increasing access to nutritious food and resources that help support food security. During a panel titled “Food Access and Justice,” organized by Planting Our Roots, a collaborative initiative between various UConn student organizations, Jakubowski said that Foodshare has seen exponential growth in the number of meals and food they are distributing during the coronavirus pandemic, but they are also spending more money than ever before. Thanks in large part to residents, corporations and philanthropic organizations around the state, Jakubowski said that Foodshare has been able to continue to do their work and accommodate the surge in food insecurity rates.
“I continue to be humbled by the support we have gotten … and we definitely wouldn’t be able to be doing what we’re doing at the scale we’re doing it if it weren’t for those supporters,” Jakubowski said.
Foodshare has transitioned to using drive-up distribution sites to ensure that people can remain in their vehicles and six feet apart while waiting in line to pick up food. The main drive-up distribution location is at Rentschler Field, which Jakubowski says is a great place due to its size which allows COVID-19 guidelines to be followed with ease.
Foodshare staff collected data during these drive-up pickup times by talking with the individuals who were in line and found that roughly 74% of families had never used their services before. This statistic once again reinforces the drastic impact that COVID-19 has had on families and the importance of organizations like Foodshare in order to address hunger and food insecurity around the state.
A major theme of the panel was the intersectionality of food insecurity and the importance of taking a comprehensive look at a person’s situation in order to better serve them and their needs. Among the many factors that go into hunger, the panel featured three state legislators, Representative Kate Farrar, Senator Saud Anwar and Senator Mae Flexor, who discussed House and Senate bills that they have sponsored that concern healthcare, mental and behavioral health and housing, all factors which can increase a person’s level of hunger and need.
At UConn, students and organizations have spearheaded various efforts to deal with food insecurity on campus. The USG Food Security Program launched last semester and focused specifically on off-campus students, who are more likely to not have a meal plan and thus can struggle to afford groceries. Students were given the opportunity to apply to receive 30 to 50 dollars each week to help offset grocery costs. The UConn Swipes Program is another initiative that began on campus to provide food insecure students access to healthy and well-balanced meals in the dining halls. UConnPIRG also has a Hunger and Homelessness Campaign that advocates for the importance of access to enough food and a stable living situation.
Foodshare is one of many organizations that have been placed in the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic and have been conducting meaningful work to ensure that Connecticut residents have access to an adequate amount of nutritious food and resources. Many students and organizations here at UConn are also doing their part to work toward making food access more equitable.
“Hunger does not care where you live, hunger doesn’t care what your zip code is, hunger doesn’t care how old you are and it doesn’t care about demographics,”
COVID-19 has shown how easily it is to take for granted something like having reliable access to food, and as the country continues to navigate the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to know that, as a state, we must serve as a united front against food insecurity because this is an issue that can happen anywhere and affect anyone.
“Hunger does not care where you live, hunger doesn’t care what your zip code is, hunger doesn’t care how old you are and it doesn’t care about demographics,” Jakubowski said. “There is hunger in every town in Connecticut.”