HAMPTON, Va. – The US economy has been shrinking due to the coronavirus lockdowns, and more bad news hit today as 3.8 million additional people filed jobless claims. That means roughly 30 million have lost jobs in the last six weeks.
The nation's largest network of food banks estimates that 17 million people could face hunger as a result. But food pantries and local farmers are stepping up to meet the need, finding new ways to feed America.
Across the country, drive-thru giveaways are popping up. Long lines to collect essential grocery items and other necessities have become the norm.
The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank in Hampton, VA, is just one spot that's providing this new drive-thru aid.
"Normally we have smaller distributions throughout the month but to supplement what our partner agencies are doing and also to supplement some of our new normal food distributions, we're planning these 400 household distributions 2 or 3 times a week," Karen Joyner, CEO of Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, told CBN News.
Many are first-timers.
"Of those that we have seen in these drive-thru distributions, over 60 percent of them are new to the food bank," explained Joyner. "So people who have been laid off and never thought they'd be in a food line, and here they are."
The Salvation Army is also seeing a surge in requests for food assistance.
"We've seen some places where the demand has increased by 2, 3, 4 times," said Salvation Army Commissioner David Hudson. "Sacramento area - we've seen an increased demand of maybe 400 percent."
Desperate and down to her last three dollars, Stephanie Moore of Hampton waited in line several hours for the free groceries. "Oh, I appreciate it so much, cause I really did need some food," she told CBN News.
While the pandemic has adversely affected major farm operations, smaller farms are adopting new ways to meet demand.
With stay-at-home orders in place, business is booming at Full Quiver Farm in Suffolk, Virginia, as more customers request food deliveries to their homes.
Forced to shut down their stand at a local farmer's market, Scott and Alison Wilson found a way to keep selling their grass-fed beef, chicken, pork, and dairy products.
"Our main ways of reaching customers have been farmer's markets, some deliveries and then coming to the farm," Alison said. "But once things started changing, we took something we were already doing, which is some deliveries 2 days a week – so that increased within a week to four days a week."
The all-natural products are delivered with social distancing in mind.
"They leave a cooler there for us, they order online from our website and shopping cart and they pay online and we actually go to their house, open their cooler, leave it there," Alison explained. "They don't have to have any physical action, which makes everyone feel comfortable."
Meanwhile, as the impact of the deadly pandemic lingers, Joyner says the need to feed more people is also likely to last. "This is gonna be a long term issue and not just solved in the next month or so," she said.
CBN's Operation Blessing is also mobilized to help meet the need. In the last two weeks, they have given out more than 45,000 pounds of food.
"As we looked at the impact of children being home from school and parents having hours cut or actually losing their jobs completely, we knew that we needed to get involved," said Hannah Slusher, national volunteer coordinator for Operation Blessing.
Produce, shelf-stable products, and non-perishable items are now available each week at the ministry's distribution centers.
Robin Ross says access to free groceries has lifted a weight off her shoulders, given the recent loss of her job.
"That means for right now that is one problem that I don't have to worry about," said Ross. "I know me and my grandson will have food, and I can concentrate more on how I can do my room rent."
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