More than 100,000 in Fairfax County could face food insecurity due to COVID-19

Fairfax County is predicted to experience the highest growing rate of food insecurity in the DC area this year, according to the Capital Area Food Bank’s 2020 Hunger Report. 

Families facing food insecurity do not have consistent access to enough healthy food and as a result, they may start eating less food, cutting out meat or vegetables, feeding their children cheap processed meals, or skipping meals so that their children can eat. The number of residents in our area facing this problem is estimated to increase by 108 percent.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 58,160 people in Fairfax County were facing food insecurity. As school closures, layoffs, and reduced work hours continue, more than 100,000 families in our area will soon be in need of food.

We’ve seen early evidence of this crisis at Food for Others, where a record number of families are seeking our services. Between March and July, Food for Others has served food to a total of 68,367 households, a 30 percent increase over the number of families we served between March and July of 2019.

And, with federal relief policies like the $600 weekly unemployment insurance, federal eviction moratorium, and SNAP expansion expiring, more and more families will find their food budgets shrinking as they use their limited funds to cover the cost of rent, transportation, or urgent medical bills.

One woman reached out to FFO for help for the first time after unexpected dental bills left her and her brother without money for food.

“I have health conditions that prevent me from working during COVID-19 and my brother is a teacher in Fairfax county who doesn’t get paid in the summer,” she said. “We usually save for July and August so we can pay bills and have money for grocery shopping. Unfortunately, my brother had to have a root canal, a crown put in, and a cavity filled. It took all our July and August savings. We’ve been rationing out bread and peanut butter along with a pack of hamburgers. We’ve never had to ask for help before.”

The majority of clients we have served since March are new. Many of them are nervous or embarrassed when they arrive. They’re not used to asking for help.

Some of our day-to-day operations that were disrupted early in the pandemic have nearly returned to normal – donations are coming in from grocery stores, a few volunteers are back in the warehouse, and our usual food suppliers are able to fill food orders when we need them. However, for those who were out of work during the last several months of closures, their lives are far from back to normal.

One of our clients, Lelise, works in a hair salon. When COVID-19 caused her salon to close, she was completely out of work for 3 months. During that time, she used her savings to pay her rent and could barely cover any of her other expenses. She started coming to Food for Others so that she would be able to eat while she was out of work.

When phase 3 re-openings began, Lelise was able to get back to working at the salon part-time but she still needs help getting food while she rebuilds her savings and looks for full time work.

We know that there are thousands more hospitality and service workers whose jobs were affected by COVID that will need our help obtaining food for the next several months while they get back on their feet.

We are preparing to feed hundreds more families every week, and are expanding our existing warehouse distributions, neighborhood sites, and community partner distributions. We are also in the process of adding up to 9 more mobile food pantry locations in high-poverty areas and working with new community partners to feed about 1,700 more families in need every month.