COVID is making it harder to find an oasis for people living in food deserts

Coronavirus

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — It is costing more for food banks to serve the thousands of people who do not have the access or income for fresh produce and meats. And here is the crunch — the need is growing by the day.

“We struggle every day to secure food,” said Ruth Jones Nichols, President and CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. “It’s gone from 40 cents per meal to $3.50 per meal, which was a huge overnight jump.”

Jones Nichols says her organization is having to buy more food rather than having it donated.

“We have in essence, become a competitor with the folks who would typically support us throughout the year. Grocery stores just don’t have the donations to give to us right now.”

She says her organization serves about 160,000 people in need, but that was last year. This year,
COVID-19 is closing more local stores and leaving more folks with empty pantries.

“(People) have lost their jobs or they have seen a major reduction in their income. That means we are serving more people potentially with fewer food resources.”

The food bank says it is targeting efforts to get food into communities that have been identified as ‘food deserts’ which are defined as areas where at least a third of the population does not have ready access to a full-service grocery store.

Healthy food advocate Bev Sell of Norfolk was hoping to launch FEAST, Food Education Access Support Together, to train people to help such areas, but that will have to wait until next year.

“What we’re actually promoting is whole foods, whole people, and whole communities,” Sell said.

The pandemic is sickening and killing people of all cultures, but data shows African-Americans are getting hit especially hard.

“African-American communities live sicker and die sooner than any other population in the country,” Sell said. “This is not new information, we’ve known this. It’s just magnified now.”

A report in the Wall Street Journal said farmers and food companies across the country are throttling back production as the virus creates chaos in the agricultural supply chain, erasing sales to restaurants, hotels and cafeterias despite grocery stores rushing to restock shelves.


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