WSDA: Emergency Food Demand Expected To Be Elevated For Months, Years To Come

The strain on emergency food resources across Washington is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. A Thursday webinar focused on the current challenges of providing healthy nutritious food for Washingtonians in need, and how those challenges could evolve into the future. Washington state Department of Agriculture Director Dereck Sandison said in the early days of the pandemic and subsequent state closure proclamation, unemployment claims statewide shot up 338% year over year.

“The number of people seeking food at food banks and pantries, doubled up to 1.6 million and continued to climb to over two million people per month.  Social distancing dictated that the food pantry model that I mentioned earlier needed to be discarded and replaced with a labor intensive prepacked food box model.”

Katie Rains, Food Assistance Supervisor at the WSDA says in the entire fiscal year ending June 2019, 1.2 million Washingtonians sought emergency food help. And while there was food to donate, due to the breakdown in the supply chain, it took some time and legal efforts to move that food to where it was needed. Rains said its anticipated food demand could spike in the final three months of 2020.

“We haven’t really turned a corner, either on the virus or the economic recovery, we’re not near that at this point.  So, we anticipate seeing elevated need across the emergency food system for months, if not years to come at this point, so we do really see this as a long haul effort.”

Rains noted while the 408 members of the Washington National Guard are assisting with food needs statewide, that help will start to draw down as we approach the end of the year.

Sandison continued the WSDA and other partners have been able to address food insecurity during much of 2020 thanks to funding from the state legislature, Governor Jay Inslee’s office, the CARES Act, and the Washington Food Fund. But he noted for this statewide effort to continue, he’s looking to Congress to address coronavirus relief sooner, rather than later.

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