The pandemic has impacted people’s lives by hitting them in their wallets and pantry over the past 18 months.
However, food insecurity has been present in the Sacramento region even since before COVID-19.
“So food insecurity was an issue for Sacramento County before the pandemic began,” Melanie Flood, Communications Director for the Sacramento Food Bank, said on Insight. “But what many people don’t know is that our numbers were higher for hunger than state and national averages before this pandemic even began.”
Flood said that the food bank was seeing 150,000 clients a month before the pandemic started. At the height of the pandemic, the food bank was seeing 300,000 a month.
When looking back at the 2008 recession, she explained the elevated numbers they saw never went down, meaning that new people have started frequenting the food bank.
“So we’re serving more and more clients who have never had to utilize a food program before,” Flood said.
The Sacramento Food Bank is also planning for some level of sustainability through the future, knowing that they’ll “be serving these people for many, many, many years to come.”
CapRadio’s Insight Host Vicki Gonzalez spoke with Flood about food insecurity in Sacramento County and how the pandemic has made the issue balloon.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length
On why Sacramento County has above average food insecurity rates
Well, it’s really because there was a gap in the number of people we were reaching. We were reaching about 150,000 people a month throughout our network of partner agencies that we partner with to serve these people.
But at the time, the food insecurity numbers were about 215,000 people. So at that time, there was a gap of around 65,000 people that we weren’t serving … We were putting out around 20 million pounds of food, pre-COVID, which equates to around 23 million meals.
So then, during COVID, that grew exponentially. We were serving 38 million pounds of food, which equates to 32 million meals. And when you think about something like that, that can really break the system.
So when people were told to stay at home, a lot of our partner agencies were run by volunteers who are retired, so we had to bring in the National Guard. They did an incredible job.
But, at the end of the day, we look at our organization, and we worry about sustainability, and we don’t see numbers going down. It’s concerning.
On partnerships that helped distribute food
… I think a lot of the learning lessons we took away from that was looking at who we could partner [with] within our community that could help us build upon the small amount of resources we had at the time.
Paratransit is a partnership that was a very positive thing that came out of the pandemic. We partnered with them to reach seniors that were isolated and also people with disabilities.
We [also] partnered with school districts in Sacramento County to reach not only children, but their families as well … If you look at our food bank campus, and look at a school district — that is right where our food bank campuses [are] off of Bell Avenue — you will see that 94% of the children there are on free or reduced lunch.
So the need is already great. When we partnered with school districts, we wanted to make sure that we could also help feed their families as well, because a lot of those programs, you can't send a box of food home for the parents, but the parents might not be working, and they're hungry too. Or they're skipping meals to make sure that their children are fed.
A lot of wonderful partnerships have come out of the pandemic, which we are going to continue moving forward with.
On how the food bank system works in Sacramento County
So we are the food bank for the county. Every county has a food bank [and] we’re a partner distribution organization of Feeding America. And how we work is we’re a “spoke and wheel” model.
So you can kind of think of us as being like a bank — a bank of food and people. We’re kind of the wholesaler and the retailer. The food pantries and the food closets and the food agencies and the churches and the charities, they come to us to make withdrawals.
So they pick up food and then we send food out to our community through those agencies. Those partnerships are of the utmost importance to us. We want to make sure that we reach people in areas that we call food deserts, areas that people don’t have access to healthy and nutritious food.
On the return of the “Run To Feed The Hungry” Thanksgiving Day event~
We’re back, and we’re better than ever. We’re super excited to be able to bring the event back to the community.
This is our 28th year of doing the event. We did have to go virtual last year due to covid, but we’re super excited that we’re able to open registration and welcome our community back … after having a really tough [year].
So what I do want to reiterate is we care the most about keeping our community safe … we are following the CDC and local officials very closely … and we will follow any guidelines that they put out … I do want everyone to know that we are offering the virtual option as well, so if people don’t feel comfortable going out to race with a bunch of people … they can absolutely [still] register for the run …
And [the run] does bring a lot of money to our organization, which is really important. It raises nearly a million dollars and we use that money directly to help our community. So what I do want to reiterate as well is … [that] every time someone gives a dollar to our organization, it equals five meals for a family. So if you feel like you can’t make a difference, you absolutely can. One dollar, five meals.
A previous version of this story contained a repeated quote from Melanie Flood. It has been removed.
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