A: It varies based on a few factors. We’ve sometimes seen waves of food pantry use that trend in interesting directions with the rapid changes in federal food benefits. While some pantries have seen sharp increases in overall numbers and/or frequency of people using their services, others have noted fluctuations they attribute to the changing federal food programs. Some banks and pantries have more established donors, some have struggled to fill gaps where their usual volunteer base, seniors, has declined out of caution about exposure to the virus.
Since the pandemic began, the whole universe that is food production, supply and distribution has been hit with multiple, complex and ongoing changes in nearly every sector. Food banks and pantries are an important sector of the food supply and distribution chain, benefitting both businesses donating food products via the perk of tax deductions, as well as people living in poverty that cannot make ends meet.
Pantries have also struggled more than usual. Critical to community food security even in “normal” times (pre-COVID-19), local food programs are one part of four essential pieces to food security. Without one of the four pillars of economic security overall, access to affordable foods by all populations, the safety net of federal food programs, and emergency food systems (where the banks and pantries fit in), food security is not a reality for a community.