Our Best Stories on the Food Security Crisis in 2020

The pandemic made almost every story a food access story this year. Here is some of our best reporting.

On his route in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Smith has a recipient on almost every block.

Food is a basic need, but this year saw an astounding number of Americans lacking the ability to meet their basic nutrition requirements. Even before the pandemic, roughly 35 million Americans were food insecure. Now, almost a year later, the ongoing health and economic crises have taken a heavy toll: nearly 54 million Americans face food insecurity. Communities that already experienced low levels of food access have been especially impacted during the pandemic, as have school food programs. Yet even with expanded food aid, programs are struggling to meet the nation’s food security needs.

This year, we reported exhaustively on food access, covering not only the challenges of getting fresh, healthy food to people, but also the community-level solutions that are working. As the number of food-insecure Americans is anticipated to grow, we expect continued and expanded analysis and reporting on this topic for the foreseeable future. For now, here are some of our best stories on food access in 2020.

As Coronavirus Closes Schools, USDA Offers Limited Help to Kids Who Rely on School Meals
The USDA has approved waivers for 14 states to provide meals amid school closures due to COVID-19, but there are still limitations the agency seeks to address.

Handing out a take-out meal at Blanchet House. (Photo credit: Justin Katigbak)

Soup Kitchens—a Last Refuge for the Hungry—Struggle to Meet Demand
The loss of safe, indoor spaces to share a community meal may have shredded what social fabric the most vulnerable had.

With Schools Closed, Some Districts are Feeding More People than Food Banks
School districts around the nation are handing out meals to students and adults alike.

What More States Allowing SNAP Recipients to Buy Food Online Means for Food Security
About a half of states are allowing use of food stamps for grocery home delivery. Anti-hunger advocates say it’s time to expand it nationwide.

Food Distribution 101: What Happens When the Food Supply is Disrupted by a Pandemic
As farmers are forced to dump food and food banks are struggling to feed millions, an explainer on U.S. food supply and distribution.

States Are Embracing Extra Funds from Pandemic EBT to Cover Missing School Meals
As families struggle to access meals at grab-and-go sites, states are providing each family $28 a week, so parents can buy what they need, when they need it.

Volunteers delivering food to New Yorkers during the pandemic.

These New York City Volunteers Are Risking Their Lives to Feed People
As the pandemic closed down the city, people from all walks of life and from all five boroughs, have stepped up to make sure their neighbors are being fed.

The Farm to Food Bank Movement Aims to Rescue Small-Scale Farming and Feed the Hungry
Across the country, grassroots and regional programs are paying farmers to harvest surplus crops to meet skyrocketing demand.

Food as Medicine on the Navajo Nation
This Native-run coronavirus relief effort could help the Navajo Nation become more resilient over the long term.

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As School Meal Programs Go Broke, a Renewed Call for Universal Free Lunch
The pandemic has wreaked havoc in school districts nationwide. Could feeding all students free meals be the solution?

How Black Communities Are Bridging the Food Access Gap
Amid the pandemic and racial-justice uprisings, Black organizers nationwide are getting fresh, healthy food and groceries to those who need it most.

White says goodbye to one of her meal recipients.

Meet the People Who Bring Food and Comfort to NYC’s Homebound, Food-Insecure Seniors
‘The only conversation they have in a day is with me.’ Portraits of meal deliverers and the elder population they serve.

COVID Brought SNAP Users Online. Advocates Say Mega-Retailers Are Selling Them Junk Food
Just two retailers—Walmart and Amazon—are approved to accept online SNAP sales in most states. A new report shows how they’re making it harder for low-income shoppers to avoid processed foods high in sugar and sodium.

College Food Pantries Are Reinventing Ways to Feed Students
As universities closed nationwide, many food-insecure students fell through the cracks. Staff and administrators are working to ensure they get fed.

Connecting Fishermen with Hungry Communities Can also Benefit Local Food Systems
While fresh seafood hasn’t traditionally been included in hunger relief programs, advocates say the lean protein is a smart choice that supports local economies.

Changes to School Meals Have Made Low-Income Kids Healthier. Will They Last?
New research shows that adding more fresh vegetables and whole grains to school lunches helped curb childhood obesity for vulnerable children, prompting questions about recent USDA rollbacks.

Ventura County Rescue Mission workers hand out food packages to the homeless on March 31, 2020 in Ventura, California.

Ensuring Homeless Americans Get Enough Food Has Never Been Easy. Now, It’s Next to Impossible.
The charitable food system wasn’t designed to handle the pandemic—and with the number of homeless and hungry people soaring, the crisis has just begun.

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Nutrition Education is Helping Low-Income Families Eat Healthier
A new study shows that SNAP-Ed is working, and may help people in low-income communities eat more foods that prevent diet-related diseases and reduce the devastating impact of COVID-19.

Liz Karabinakis on the West Haven Farm in Ithaca: “It was our local farmers who were able to be responsive and act quickly. And from their hearts, it was a genuine commitment to the community. That speaks to part of the value of a local food system. [It’s about] being connected, not only to the land that is producing your food, but to the people who are working the land and to the people who are being nourished by the food—an interconnectedness between farmers and consumers.”

The New York Farmers Responding to Food Insecurity
Small-scale farmers in Ithaca respond to hunger through nimbleness, innovation, and mutualism. If the recently introduced FEED Act passes Congress, the model could spread nationwide.

Civil Eats TV: Duskie Estes Is Gleaning with Meaning
The celebrity chef has come full circle as a food access advocate in her new role at Farm to Pantry, gleaning food and feeding the hungry in her community.

The Civil Eats Editors

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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