Other Views: Remember the Hungry as the Winter of COVID-19 Nears


The Seattle Times Editorial Board

The long ordeal of our untamed pandemic has upended the fight against hunger throughout Puget Sound and across America. Spikes in infections and unemployment have sent families  seeking help from food banks at unprecedented rates. Anyone with the means should help Washington’s food banks in this time of extraordinary need.

Northwest Harvest, which supports 375 food banks statewide, reports that during COVID-19, hunger in the state has sometimes reached double the normal level.

In this dark hour, Washingtonians have stepped up to extraordinary effect. National Guard troops have taken the place of food bank volunteers across the state who stayed home to avoid risk. And churches and neighborhood groups have built up ad hoc hunger programs to meet urgent needs — sometimes, as informal as a curbside table stacked with free groceries.

These heroic efforts continue to be urgently needed. The nonprofit Washington State Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found deep need expressed in census data taken this fall. The survey showed that 200,000 Washington households cannot keep up on rent, and 10 percent of parents reported their children didn’t have enough food.

These findings indicate hunger is on the rise, as parents usually make sure their children are the first ones fed, said Christina Wong, Northwest Harvest’s director of public policy and advocacy

Yet the usual routes to help get food to the people who need it are hitting roadblocks. Fluctuations in food prices have hit food banks hard, as have COVID-19 cancellations of community fundraisers and food drives. Sue Potter, chief executive officer of Nourish Pierce County, said her $250,000 budget to buy food for 23 food pantries was spent by May. Long-range pandemic planning has been difficult. An annual holiday food drive that usually provides a six-month supply of shelf-stable food was just canceled, too, Potter told the editorial board.

“We’ve been fundraising like crazy in order to make sure we have enough food to get us through 2020 and 2021,” she said. “The new normal is rough.”

Elizabeth Grant, president of the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition, said the peak demand for food that arrived with the COVID-19 economic downturn has leveled off. But safety protocols for her food bank, she said, have meant relying exclusively on groceries bought with donated money, rather than pantry donations.

“It’s not inexpensive, but people are helping us to afford it,” Grant said.

You can help, especially as the holidays approach. The pandemic will be with us for quite a while yet, as will the school closures and business instability that disrupted lives. Those who are hungry, or wish to donate, can consult Northwest Harvest’s statewide Hunger Response Network at northwestharvest.org to find a local food supply. Additionally, the Washington Food Coalition maintains a list of COVID-19 food bank closures at wafoodcoalition.org.