Alabama food banks have seen an overwhelming need for emergency food going to Alabamians since the mid-March layoffs began along with business shutdowns.
“We’ve never quite seen anything like this in terms of the need. Cars line up for miles whenever there is a food distribution pickup. We’ve never seen so many people in this kind of economic crisis before,” says Laura Lester, director of the Alabama Food Bank Association, a network that covers every county in Alabama through four regional food banks and four distribution organizations.
“There is not a break in this. It has to do with employment and what happened to the economy, hours cut and lost jobs, and just gets worse and worse as the bills and costs add up.”
Food bank finances are stretched, but also the food sources, says Lester.
“The normal sources are not there right now. It’s hard to find food to order when we need to purchase food, the same issues individuals find when they go to grocery stores,” says Lester.
The AFBA’s food banks serve 1,600 agencies and food pantries, many of them operated by churches.
“We already had a high level of food insecurity in Alabama, a state, with one in four children not knowing were their next meal will come from and people living paycheck to paycheck. We’re seeing those folks being pushed further and now we’re seeing a whole new group of folks who never visited a food pantry asking for help, across the board, including former donors asking for help.”
The AFBA, along with a number of school systems across the state, has also started a food distribution program for children modeled on what used to be a summer food program to extend meals for children who rely on school lunches. There are now 35 such programs in operation across the state, says Lester.
Federal dollars going to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program has also shot up since the virus crisis. The most recent figures from the Alabama Department of Human Resources show only the beginning of the crisis, from February to March, but they showed a 155 percent increase in internet applications for SNAP.
“It really is an economic issue, and SNAP plays a huge economic force in our state, with farmers, truckers, grocers retailers. It’s a really good and easy way to put cash back into the economy. We see how people who didn’t think about SNAP before, see how grateful they are the program exists.”
On April 22, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced a 40 percent increase in SNAP benefits, $2 billion per month, owing to the crisis.
To make donations to the food bank association or its individual regional food banks and distribution centers, find links to the network members at the AFBA website, alfba.org.