|Blog re-posted from Communities Count – a resource that supports King County communities in the use of data to promote and achieve equity.|
By Joann Mun, Assessment, Policy Development and Evaluation
COVID-19 exacerbates food insecurity
With the unexpected spread of COVID-19, food insecurity has come to the forefront as a key issue in King County communities and across the country. Food insecurity occurs when people don’t have the resources to provide for the food they need. Even before COVID-19, 11% of King County adults experienced food insecurity (Behavioral Risk Factor and Surveillance System, 2018, and 26.5% of parents and caregivers with young children said it was hard to afford basics like food.
Locally, we’re seeing growing numbers seeking food assistance. The 211 Crisis Connections hotline call data from April through early May 2020 indicate that food is the second most common social service need requested during the COVID-19 crisis, after housing. In April 2020, there were over 1,200 calls to 2-1-1 for food assistance. Latinx, Black, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately represented in those seeking food assistance.
More people are filing for and receiving financial food assistance as well. In April 2020, 10,300 more households (representing a 10.5% increase) in King County received Basic Food (SNAP) benefits compared to January 2020. Enrollments in the WIC program, a supplemental program for women, infants and children, also increased.
Food insecurity disproportionately impacts those living on low-income, many of them working adults and children. As unemployment rates increase, economic instability makes it more difficult to reliably afford healthy food. Between March 1 and May 16, 2020, 307,000 King County residents (about 1 in 4 workers) filed for unemployment benefits – a more than 20-fold increase over the same period in 2019.
The need for emergency food services such as food banks and meal programs is more urgent than ever. However, across the nation, organizations providing emergency food services have been faced disruption of the supply chain, decreased capacity and increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. King County is no exception. Our emergency food service organizations are experiencing a surge in demand during the COVID-19 Pandemic that has created a strain on their capacity.
Community agencies operating emergency food programs report a need for:
- Additional staff to distribute food
- Fresh produce and protein
- Drivers and vehicles to transport food, and
- More storage capacity
Adapting to uncertain times and turning to available resources
COVID-19 is uncovering weaknesses within the food system and may continue to adversely impact many more people who have faced or are now experiencing food insecurity. In response, many emergency food providers have adapted their practices to align with public health guidelines to keep volunteers and clients safe. For example, many food banks like Rainier Valley Food Bank, meal programs like Chicken Soup Brigade, and non-profit agencies, like FEEST are offering home delivery options as an alternative to traditional food distribution. Home delivery is especially important for anyone who is particularly high risk for COVID-19 or needs to stay isolated.
Public Health – Seattle & King County and the City of Seattle recently released a map of free food resources, which will be updated weekly. This new tool includes information about resources across King County in order to provide emergency food during COVID-19.
Finding emergency food assistance (Hover and click on the interactive map to see more information)
At the top of the map, use the drop down menu to filter options based on operational status. Select to highlight the type of food resource (food bank, food bank & meal, meal, and student to-go meals) using the colored legend. Hover over a resource to learn more about the services offered at that location.
Click on the Return to Main Page button to see a list view and printable list.
Current efforts and looking ahead
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a formidable challenge of addressing local food needs. Although food insecurity persists, innovative efforts are taking place at the state, county and community level to increase food access and security. King County’s Healthcare and Food Security Learning Network is an existing coalition of healthcare providers, retailers, advocates, food distributors, educators, service navigators, program managers, and funders working together to increase food security. The map can be used to find food resources as well as support your local food organizations by donating and volunteering.
Originally published on June 15, 2020.