As we mark one year since the first Covid-19 case in Westchester County, while hoping for a brighter 2021, it’s crucial to recognize that numerous families throughout the county still – and will continue to – face unprecedented challenges. Our neighbors, many of whom are experiencing hunger for the first time due to the effects of the pandemic, are in need of our help.
Though many may not realize it, hunger is pervasive right in our own backyard and has been for some time. Prior to the pandemic, our network of nearly 300 community partners and programs had been serving 150,000 individuals each month. During the height of the pandemic, that monthly number more than doubled.
It all happened very quickly. New Rochelle was declared the epicenter of Covid-19 in New York last March. Shortly thereafter, businesses and schools closed across the entire state, unemployment skyrocketed, and within the first week we distributed 35 percent more food than the week prior. By May 2020, that number increased to 99 percent – or nearly 640,000 pounds of food – in one week.
Following ten months of record need in 2020, Feeding Westchester’s early 2021 numbers show demand remains high. In January 2021 alone, we provided 1.5 million pounds of food, or 1.25 million meals. Though we remain hopeful about the future, it will take time for our neighbors in need to recover from the financial impacts of Covid-19 and get back on their feet, whether they had relied on us pre-Covid or had to turn to us for help for the very first time.
To continue to meet the increased need for food due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, we launched nearly 40 additional programs including “pop-up” pantries, drive-thru distributions and supplemental Mobile Food Pantries and Fresh Market programs. This allowed us to distribute 22 million pounds of food throughout Westchester County in 2020, or 18.4 million meals, compared to 8.5 million meals in 2019.
An unfortunate reality is that those in need often do not qualify for federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to put food on the table. Instead, they depend on local food banks and other relief organizations for assistance.
For 32 years, our mission has been to nourish our neighbors in the fight against hunger in Westchester County. As we continue to navigate Covid-19 together, that mission remains unchanged.
Our neighbors are relying on us more than ever. While the pandemic has necessitated changes to many in-person volunteer opportunities, there are still a number of ways to get involved. Consider making a donation, hosting a food drive, or participating in a virtual volunteer opportunity.
Every $1 donated to Feeding Westchester provides three meals for local children, seniors, and families struggling with hunger. To find help, or to help, go to www.feedingwestchester.org.
Karen C. Erren is President and CEO of Feeding Westchester, Westchester County’s leading nonprofit hunger-relief organization. For the latest news and updates, follow @FeedingWestchester on Facebook and Instagram and @FeedWestchester on Twitter.