Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Washtenaw County, more than 5,300 county children didn't have access to enough nutritious food, according to a study by Feeding America. Now, due to the economic setbacks of the pandemic, a new study projects that food insecurity rates among Washtenaw County children could rise by 103% from 2018.
This food insecurity is only magnified with the end of the 2019-2020 school year, as many children rely on free or reduced lunches for meals.
To help bridge this gap, Food Gatherers will sponsor 22 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sites for children in Washtenaw County from June 22-Aug. 28. The 2020 SFSP is offered in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education and is funded by Toyota.
Traditionally, Food Gatherers has sponsored the summer program where children can share a meal together five days a week. Last year, the SFSP served meals at 34 different sites in the community. In keeping with social distancing practices, this year's program will distribute bundles of to-go meals to provide 14 meals each week per child, plus additional groceries for families.
Helen Starman, Food Gatherers' chief development officer, says the nonprofit's hunger relief partners have seen demand for food increase anywhere from 30% to 300% since the COVID-19 outbreak, including many people who have never received food assistance before. She says this year's summer program is also expecting a large turnout, especially due to the increased convenience.
"We know there is more need, and we've never done it this way at a non-congregate site," Starman says. "In the past, we'd serve food at a congregate site and the only way people could get it is by being physically present at the meal. We anticipate we will distribute more meals this way."
The program distributed 78% more meals last year than it did in 2018, yet Starman says many people don't realize how great the need is for food-insecure families during the summer.
"Many people think of food insecurity at holidays, but the true challenge is over the summer months," Starman says. "People in the community who want to help make an impact can consider making a donation, visiting our website for volunteer opportunities available, or just spread the word with friends and neighbors."
Families in need can find their closest pickup site and a meal distribution schedule on Food Gatherers' website. Children do not need to be present at pickup.
To help, visit Food Gatherers' website for a list of needed items or to donate.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Food Gatherers.