As we look forward to a new year, a stark reality remains: the number of individuals grappling with food insecurity in the United States has surged from 34 million in 2021 to a staggering 44 million in 2022, according to the latest update from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Those impacted include our neighbors, friends, and family members – all who are struggling to put food on the table. This alarming escalation not only poses a critical threat to the well-being of millions but also demands our collective attention and urgent action.
The Drivers and Impacts of Food Insecurity
Stagnating wages and rising living costs have created a perfect storm for food insecurity. Many Americans are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet, with the cost of basic necessities like rent, utilities, and healthcare outpacing income growth. This economic strain is being exacerbated by escalating food prices.
Data from the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that food prices rose about 11% from 2021 to 2022. While food prices typically increased by around 2% in prior years, this surge was attributed to a combination of factors, including inflation and supply chain disruptions.
On top of inflation, many Americans face the reality of trying to keep up with escalating costs of living while their wages remain frozen in time. Picture this: In January 2022, a bag of potato chips cost $5.26. Fast forward to December of the same year, and the price had ballooned to $6.28.
A seemingly small increase, right? Let's put that into perspective:
Since 2010, the national minimum wage has rested at $7.25 per hour. That means, even as the cost of everyday items (like a simple bag of chips) continues to climb, the earnings of those at the bottom of the wage scale haven't budged. For one bag of chips, a minimum wage worker would have to spend nearly an entire hour's worth of hard earned money - and that doesn’t include tax or price gouging.
Yet, while marginalized communities are grappling with these financial pressures and food banks and pantries struggle to keep up with the need, big corporations are reaping significant profits like PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay. PepsiCo saw a staggering 20% increase in profits in just the third quarter of 2022.
When talking with Alabama News, Pastor Richard Williams of the Metropolitan United Methodist Church’s food bank shares about the need within his community in Montgomery, Alabama. His church also operates as a food pantry and resource center called Beacon Center, which provides wrap-around services like GED training programs, health screenings, counseling, and food boxes.
We’re still experiencing that same volume [as we did during COVID] but with less resources and support. If what it looks like right now is a preview of what Christmas looks like, our volume of food is going to have to literally almost double. And we’ve already done a 40 to 50% increase in acquiring more food.-
Having opened just last year in 2022, Beacon Center quickly found themselves bearing the brunt of the burden for their communities as they watched multiple other nearby food banks close their doors due to the rising cost of food and a lack of funding to keep providing.
Beacon Center isn’t the only food bank struggling to keep with an ever growing need. The Atlanta Food Bank has also been experiencing a significant increase in demand. "Like many food banks across the country, we are experiencing that lines are getting longer," Kyle Waide, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, told CBS News earlier in 2023. "We've seen a 40% increase to our network over the last 15 months."
The Power of Collective Effort
As we grapple with this escalating crisis of food insecurity, it's crucial to highlight the tireless work of organizations focused on reducing hunger across the United States.
We all have a role to play in combating food insecurity. Whether it's volunteering at a local food bank, making a donation, or simply spreading awareness about the issue, every action counts.
By advocating for policies focused on hunger relief, you can help shape a future where no one goes to bed hungry. Start by informing yourself about legislation affecting food security, and then take action. Write to your elected officials, call them, use social media—let them know that hunger relief must be a priority.
The hunger crisis isn’t a distant problem, but a pressing issue, affecting the physical health,
mental well-being, and educational outcomes of individuals, especially children. The call to act is urgent; the need for change is immediate.
Every amount helps - no matter how little or how big. The time is now to take action and join the fight against hunger by becoming a monthly donor, hosting a Season of Giving Food Drive, or sharing a fundraiser on your social media platforms. There are so many ways you can give - and many of them simply take some time out of your day and little else. Learn about all the ways you can give here.
We all have a role to play, whether it's volunteering our time, making a donation, or simply spreading awareness about the magnitude of this issue. Through sharing stories, we have seen the remarkable difference that these actions can make in people's lives. It's a testament to the power of collective action.