How bad is food insecurity in Greater Washington?

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Some three-quarters of a million dollars has been distributed in “$1,500 increments” by the local Jewish community to help ease food insecurity during the pandemic, according to Gil Preuss, CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Alleviating hunger, which is one element needed to lift a family out of poverty, was the subject of a webinar on May 10, sponsored by The Federation. Here are five fast facts.

1. Currently, there are between 500,000 and 600,000 food-insecure people in the Greater Washington area, according to Radha Muthiah, CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, who was one of the webinar’s speakers. That is between 100,000 and 200,000 greater than before to the pandemic.

2. The vast majority of area residents going to food pantries and receiving other food help are first-time users, who before the pandemic even had savings. But many lost their jobs, others suffered from the COVID-19 virus and still more watched their savings disappear, Muthiah said.

3. Speaker Caron Gremont, early childhood director at No Kid Hungry, agreed, noting that during the beginning of the pandemic, one in four families here were food insecure. Now, it is closer to one in six, due to the combination of government support and the public-private sector.

4. The two hardest-hit areas are Montgomery County and Fairfax County, according to Muthiah. In Montgomery County, about 115,000, or one in nine people, faced food insecurity during the pandemic, said Tracey Friedlander, co-chair of Food for Montgomery.

5. Friedlander said she knows what it’s like to be hungry. She grew up “hungry and in poverty,” enrolling in six schools over 12 years as her single mother struggled to find jobs.

They relied on food stamps, the school and the kindness of others, as well as the five cents she earned each time she recycled a glass bottle.

Being hungry was bad enough, but Friedlander also experienced the “subtle shame” of poverty, which “meant we were invisible to the larger world.”

The faces of hunger are different now. It is common for those not having enough money to put food on their table to be employed. They are firefighters, police officers, nurses, college students, school bus drivers, teachers and the elderly, said Friedlander, noting that her postman recently told her he was teetering on homelessness.

Many of these people, she said, “are living on what is now being called a minimum wage diet.”

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