The number of people in Eastern Massachusetts experiencing food insecurity is expected to increase by 59% because of the COVID-19 crisis.
According to new estimates by Feeding America, more than 658,000 people in Eastern Massachusetts will experience food insecurity in 2020, meaning they don’t consistently know where their next meal is coming from. That is nearly the entire population of the city of Boston.
That translates to one in eight people in Eastern Massachusetts living with food insecurity. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Feeding America reported that one in 13 people (415,380) were food insecure in the region.
Over the past three months, The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) has seen a surge in the demand for food throughout its network of over 600 distribution partners in Eastern Massachusetts. Our network is working overtime, and GBFB is meeting the increased need. We just distributed 8.1 million pounds of food in March 2020, 9.5 million pounds in April, and 9.7 million pounds in May.
“Unfortunately, these new food insecurity projections do not surprise us as we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for food in our region,” said Catherine D’Amato, GBFB President and CEO. “The emergency food network in Eastern Massachusetts, which includes 550 GBFB partner agencies, has shown incredible resiliency during this difficult time and continues to heroically adapt to the needs of an ever-increasing number of people, many of whom have never had to rely on a food pantry for assistance to feed their family.”
Due to historic unemployment, many people seeking hunger-relief because they lost their jobs and are going to a food pantry for the first time. According to a poll we conducted with our partner agencies, we estimated that in the first week of May, at least 9,700 new households sought help from our network.
The new Feeding America 2020 projections verify what we have been seeing on the ground. At the state level, Massachusetts has seen food insecurity jump from one in 11 people before COVID-19 to a projected one in seven in 2020.
Of the nine counties in our Eastern Massachusetts service area, four (Barnstable, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth) have seen their projected food insecurity rates increase by over 70%. Suffolk County has the highest rate of projected food insecurity in Eastern Massachusetts with 16.7% or one in six individuals expected to struggle with hunger in 2020.
This is bad news for everyone. Before the pandemic, Massachusetts was the most expensive state to buy food in. The average cost of a meal in Massachusetts was $3.63. Record setting numbers of unemployment claims amplifies the growing need for accessible food, and our service area faces further challenges around cost. Eastern Massachusetts has the highest food costs in the state at $3.84 per meal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally the price of groceries grew 2.6% in April 2020, the biggest increase from one month to the next since 1974.
And children are at an even greater risk. Food insecurity is projected to increase 81% for children in Massachusetts, the second highest percent change in child food insecurity of any state in the country. In Eastern Massachusetts, child food insecurity is projected to rise 93%, meaning that 1 in 6 children are now at risk to experience hunger here.
Further demonstrating the pressure individuals and families face to put healthy food on the table, the rate of SNAP applications has more than tripled since the pandemic began. With nearly one million people statewide projected to be food insecure in 2020, many more people could be eligible for these vital federal benefits.
If you or your someone you know needs food, please check out gbfb.org/need-food for an up-to-date list of resources in your area.