GENESEE COUNTY — With the state’s stay at home order now over, the Food Bank Council of Michigan is preparing to handle an even more increased need for emergency food.
According to projections from the Food Bank Council, Michigan’s food insecurity rate will remain elevated through 2022—fueled by current high unemployment rates and a potentially slow post-pandemic economic recovery.
Before COVID-19, Michigan’s food insecurity rate stood at 13.6 percent, which equates to 1.4 million residents. That rate is expected to peak at the end of June to 18.8 percent or 1.9 million people in Michigan.
Further projections from the Food Bank Council show that the state’s food insecurity rate will linger at 14.6 percent through the end of 2022. This follows on the heels of a statewide jobless rate that topped 22 percent in April, as reported by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.
Dr. Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, said that many citizens will need to rely upon food banks for several years to come as they recover from a prolonged loss of income.
“Unemployment and food insecurity are intrinsically tied,” he said. “Even when life appears to return to normal for some of us, many Michiganders will still have more month than money and (will) need emergency food.”
Prior to COVID-19, Genesee County’s food insecurity rate was 16.8 percent, translating to approximately 69,000 of the county’s 405,000-plus residents. Kara Ross, president of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, said that those numbers will continue to rise sharply in southeastern Michigan in the wake of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen distribution in most of our service areas really just skyrocket in response to people becoming unemployed,” she said. “Across our entire region, we expect to see upward of about 272,000 residents who are food insecure. Our usual food insecurity rate is around 196,000.”
To combat food insecurity, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has doubled its food distribution and is sending out 55 mobile food pantries each week to its 22 county-service area. Ross said that around 300 families are using the pantries each week, compared to the 30 or 40 families that the units usually serve per week.
“We have been working to create awareness for our mobile distribution calendar and resources,” she said. “The mobile distribution model makes it so much easier for people to access fresh produce, milk, dairy and fresh items that they can take home to make meals with.”
Ross said that the food bank has been aiding an increasing number of individuals who have never had to use its services before. This includes residents who have been recently laid off due to COVID- 19, as well as those who were impacted by catastrophic flooding in Midland County and surrounding areas.
“The food bank is here as a safety net and helps families fill the gap in their household incomes,” Ross said. “Our network of volunteers and faith-based agencies can also help with other things, like paying electric bills. We are here to help anyone who needs it.”
Details on the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan’s food distribution network can be found at fbem.org. For more information on the Food Bank Council of Michigan’s response to COVID-19, visit www.fbcmich.org/covid-19/.