Since March, the number of people who lack food sources has continued to grow. In Montgomery County, the food relief effort often ran out of food that was prepared before it could feed all those in need.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So what does food insecurity look like and how will the 1 in 6 projected people feel this year? We went to find out.
JOHN ROSS: I need one more volunteer to load the car.
MARTIN: On a Friday earlier this month, we visited a food distribution site in Bethesda, Md. In Montgomery County, which is one of the richest counties in the country. But as in many places, the need for food has increased since the start of the pandemic.
ROSS: People will line up and come here. You will see they have started lining up.
MARTIN: Before the distribution started, volunteers like John Ross were dropping more than 200 boxes of food to hand out. Bread piled high on one table, ready-to-eat food and coffee bags on the other.
ROSS: Very surprising, I think, we all see this on the ground, right now. So we did the best we could.
MARTIN: One hour before the event started, a long line of cars had passed through the parking lot at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, a group of volunteer firefighters who lent their place. We met Peter Warner while he was waiting in his car.
PETER WARNER: Last week, I got here at 20 minutes after 1. There were cars a quarter mile long in line. I was lucky to get a place, and they almost ran out of food 20 minutes after the bell started. Anyone who arrives here after 1:30 am is simply out of luck.
MARTIN: Warner arrived early this time. He works part-time at Safeway and receives a monthly disability check for a thousand dollars. It should cover all the basics – rent, medication, keeping the car running and, of course, food.
WARNING: I now also earn $ 194 per month in SNAP food stamps, which are really worth it. But today is the 18th. My food stamp award comes in on the 22nd. I have to eat for the next four days.
MARTIN: As we talk to people the queue of cars keeps growing, finally down the busy road outside the parking lot.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: How many families? Okay, two here.
MARTIN: A lot of the people we talked to didn’t want to talk much about their situation. It seemed like a source of shame and pain. One or two people say that lack of food even for a few days a month is a chronic problem in areas where the cost of living is high. But most of the people we spoke to said the coronavirus pandemic or the steps being taken to contain it are the main reason they need food aid right now.
Linda is one of them. She was getting food for her daughter and five grandchildren. Before the pandemic, she worked as a domestic helper.
LINDA: I’ve been laid off since May. I try to apply for unemployment if I can.
MARTIN: The jobless application hasn’t been approved yet, and five months without a job or any financial assistance has taken its toll.
LINDA: It’s too hard, really. I’m struggling. I hope a pandemic – over soon. You know, it’s really hard. But we are still blessed to have someone to provide food for us, so we will still be grateful to God.
MARTIN: We also met Adam. He’s a father of two. He and his wife were both collecting unemployment and seeking food aid for the first time in their lives.
ADAM: My wife and I have been on leave since March. And now only with profits extended down, it’s just that – yes, the money is very – much lower now, so it helps. You know, a little helps now because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. So it’s good to just be prepared for that because you never know how long this will last.
MARTIN: There is no food distribution in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area until August. That’s when Andrew Friedson, Montgomery County councilor for the area, brought together a coalition of non-profit, commercial, and faith-based groups to distribute the food. You can hear that the two of us talk through our masks.
This is a prosperous area. Montgomery County is prosperous in Maryland, and – meaning one of the most affluent areas in the country. So when did you realize that you really needed something like that?
ANDREW FRIEDSON: Yes, that’s always needed. I think there’s a lot more to poverty in Montgomery County and even in places like Bethesda than people realize in normal times. And during COVID, it has just crossed the roof, the challenges we face.
MARTIN: But Friedson says, since the start of the pandemic, the need for food aid and rent are two of the biggest problems his office has heard from constituents.
FRIEDSON: We really need federal government support. CARES Act is great. That’s in large part funding public efforts for this – CARES Act funding, the $ 183 million that districts have already received. But that’s not close enough.
MARTIN: And while feeding those in need is the goal of this distribution event, volunteer John Ross says it’s more than just food.
ROSS: What we want to do here too is show people that people care. It’s not just the calories, it’s the attention that goes with this – that we’re all together in this, and we all need to be a part of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD’S “BLOODLESS”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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