'In Plain Sight': Hunger and Food Insecurity in Our Communities
with Ami McReynolds of Feeding America
Food insecurity regularly impacts millions of Americans, and the number of those affected increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Feeding America, every county in the United States has populations struggling with hunger.
Ami McReynolds, Chief Equity Officer of Feeding America, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share ongoing efforts to combat food insecurity across the United States.
March 31, 2022
Anderson: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment and food insecurity soared. At least 60 million Americans turned to food banks, pantries and other anti-hunger programs in 2020 -- a startling 50% increase over 2019, representing one in every five Americans. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Hunger can affect anyone, and it's much closer than you might think. Your neighbor, child's classmate or even a coworker may be struggling to get enough to eat, but hunger doesn't affect everyone equally. And joining me to talk about all of this is Ami McReynolds, chief equity officer for Feeding America -- the nation's largest hunger relief organization. And, Ami, thank you so much for being here.
McReynolds: Tetiana, thanks for having me.
Anderson: So, you know, we hear this term "food insecurity" all the time, but I'm not so sure that everyone really understands it. Can you sort of break it down? I mean, how do you define food insecurity?
McReynolds: Yeah, when I think about food insecurity in plain language, the word "uncertainty" comes to mind. Both uncertainty in terms of feeling and uncertainty in terms of fact in terms of having lack of consistent access to food for yourself or members of your household such that you can lead an active and healthy life. So it really is about a sense of uncertainty predicated by a lack of financial resources or trying to stretch food budgets.
Anderson: And, you know, we often hear about hunger as, you know, a hidden epidemic. What does that mean?
McReynolds: Hunger is really an issue that is in plain sight. Hunger affects every county in this country. And there are people who are experiencing hunger for the first time, like many did during the pandemic. 40% of people who came to the charitable feeding system were coming to food banks for the first time. Some of those individuals used to volunteer at food banks and found themselves in need of the food assistance provided by the Feeding America network. Hunger is also an issue that disproportionately impacts different communities. When I think about the tens of millions of people who experience food insecurity today -- 38 million people -- 12 million of those are children. And we know that households with children experience food insecurity at twice the rate of their counterparts who do not have children, and communities of color experience food insecurity at rates two to four times higher than that of their white counterparts. So it really is an issue that is happening in plain sight all around us.
Anderson: So, we know that Feeding America is one of the largest nonprofits in the country. But, you know, how does it work? How does it operate so that it can respond to the needs of people in these different areas, whether they're urban, suburban, rural and people living in food deserts, for example?
McReynolds: Exactly. Well, the Feeding America network consists of 200 food banks that serve all 50 states in the U.S. and every county in the -- in the country. Those 200 food banks work very closely with about 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that are in local communities all across our country. So that's how we're able to have reach into communities and to be able to listen to communities. In our work, we work to both source and distribute food. We work on opportunities to improve financial security for families. And we are very focused on working both with people and policymakers to help with policies that can also make a difference for people who are facing hunger in this country.
Anderson: And when we talk about all of this, we have to talk about COVID-19, because, of course, it made things more difficult for those who were already struggling and for those who found themselves in precarious financial situations because of the pandemic. What was Feeding America's response?
McReynolds: Feeding America was part of a massive public and private partnership that really made a difference for families across this country advocating for federal policies like increased commodities and expanding summer feeding for families, as well as in our last fiscal year, fiscal year '21, we distributed over 6.6 billion meals throughout our Feeding America network, and we did that in partnership with our food banks and our community partners.
Anderson: And I'm wondering about the fallout from the pandemic. One of the things is rising prices on a number of things, including food. So how concerned are you about that, and do you have a long-term plan?
McReynolds: Yeah, we, of course, care about anything that impacts people who are experiencing hunger in this country. We know that food budgets are already stretched really thin, and so more people are turning to food banks for food assistance in their communities. And because we are rooted in community, we've been there before the pandemic, throughout the pandemic, and we will continue to be in community. We are working through the generosity of donors who have provided funds to us to help offset the costs of transportation for moving food to our neighbors, as well as being able to provide grants to food banks to assist them with food purchases that they're having to do to ensure that they have the type of food that their neighbors both want and need. In the long term, we'll continue to do what we've always done, which is to advocate for policy and to continue to be part of community developing solutions based on the needs of our communities to address food insecurity.
Anderson: And, Ami, I know that viewers are probably going to want to know more about all of this. So what is your website?
McReynolds: Anyone who might need food assistance or is looking to support the national office of Feeding America or the network can go to FeedingAmerica.org.
Anderson: Ami McReynolds of Feeding America, thank you so much for being here.
McReynolds: Thank you so much, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just visit ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.