Washtenaw County food banks seek support as food insecurity rises above its pandemic peak

As the weather gets cooler and COVID-19-related government benefits dwindle to zero, individuals and families across the country are struggling more to afford healthy food. With trips to the grocery store becoming more and more expensive, many folks are turning to local food pantries for assistance – and pantries are struggling to keep up with the demand.

In Washtenaw County, food banks are seeing even more demand for resources than they saw at the height of the pandemic, according to data collected by Food Gatherers, the county's largest anti-hunger nonprofit. Food Gatherers President and CEO Eileen Spring says the increased need correlates directly to the end of programs that boosted SNAP benefits, as well as other pandemic-related safety nets.

"Right when the extra SNAP benefits ended in the spring, we saw a 50% increase in those coming to food pantries," Spring says. 

Food Gatherers found that visits to 19 of their partner organizations increased from 4,124 in July 2022 to 5,374 in July 2023 – compared to just over 2,000 visits in July 2019.

Pandemic services are not the only cause behind this increased need. Grocery costs have skyrocketed over the past three years, and current federal projections estimate that costs will continue to grow. 

"We're all in the same boat," Spring says. "We're all responding to the same loss of support."

Spring says there are many ways to help support both Food Gatherers and its partners while need is at an all-time high, such as donating supplies or funds to Food Gatherers or spreading the word about organizations providing free food throughout the county. However, Spring says the best way to handle these challenges is ultimately going to be advocacy for policy changes.

"We're going to be facing these challenges for years if we don't come up with different and better ways to address hunger," she says. "We need both policy to change and for philanthropy to step up."

For more information, visit Food Gatherers' website or call (734) 761-2796.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo courtesy of Food Gatherers.
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