As we welcome a new administration into the white house the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on across the nation, with the death toll surpassing 475,000 just a few days ago (New York Times). While this change in administration is promising to many, today there are millions of people both infected with the virus and suffering from the disparaging economic fallout including food insecurity, unemployment, and eviction. Those Americans already living in poverty have undeniably suffered the most given the fragility of their situations, and with COVID-19 welcoming an additional 15 million citizens to this category, the public assistance programs that help keep them afloat are faced with an increasingly daunting challenge. In Virginia alone, the number of residents facing food insecurity grew by over 50%, leaving over a million Virginians questioning the source of their next meal (Virginia Road Map to End Hunger).
Biden’s recent release of his $1.9 Trillion coronavirus stimulus plan includes an extension of the 15% increase in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits through September of 2021 for the programs 43 million beneficiaries, which will provide crucial aid to many hit hardest by the pandemic. However, the bulk of the work will continue to fall on the shoulders of nonprofits. As quoted in Virginia’s Roadmap to End Hunger, seven regional food banks “represent the largest charitable response to hunger in the Commonwealth,” meaning these nonprofit organizations provided more support to those in need than any of the federally funded programs available. Even with the “nonprofit sector” first being considered an established market in the 1970s, the wide range of organizations that exist under this umbrella provide a larger safety net to Americans than the government or private sectors ever have. The concept of charity and mutual aid between fellow humans has certainly existed long before that, but the two main bodies tasked with solving major humanitarian and social issues were the government and the private sector. Most evidence suggests neither of these bodies made much progress, partly due to a lack of resources (pre industrial revolution), and partly due to apathy and the normalization of significant wealth inequality. Now, there is no denying that we have more than enough food to go around. With the introduction of what many call the “social sector” we are starting to see more progress in addressing hunger and other issues; but it goes without saying that there is a lot of work to be done.
Without going into too much detail (we’ll save that for the next post!), one of the major faults of the food stamp program is that it only allows for the purchase of the cheapest and most basic food items that consequently take the most time to prepare. For example, dried beans are less costly than canned beans (and therefore are the only kind food stamps allow for), but require an overnight soak and up to an hour on the stove whereas a standard can of beans is ready to eat. As a result, those with objectively the least amount of spare time and energy are forced to cook everything from scratch which requires not only time but also serious skill and access to recipes. This is where an organization like FEAST comes in to provide the required nutritional and culinary knowledge that government programs fail to deliver. As they say at FEAST, food insecurity is an issue that will require all of us to solve, and no one sector or organization can do it alone.
Hope you enjoyed my first post! More Coming Soon. -Jordan Tisaranni