Approximately 54 million Americans have been forced to go without fresh food during the pandemic, and most of them are Black people and people of color. Socioeconomic stability within already poor and marginalized communities has become even more devastating as people are having to rely on food kitchens and nonprofit organizations like Feeding America, local food banks, and pantries. Food deserts and food insecurities are widening the disparity gaps, and while there are courageous grassroots movements and foundations determined to bridge the gap, state and federal action is necessary.
Before the pandemic, food insecurity was already devastating for Black communities and communities of color, with even more daunting obstacles set in place for undocumented and disabled people of color. According to NPR, “Even before the pandemic hit, some 13.7 million households, or 10.5% of all U.S. households, experienced food insecurity at some point during 2019, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
To add to these disparity, Feeding America’s 2020 report on The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity found that food insecurity is an impact and indicator of other accessibility issues that many overlook. The report concluded that:
“Systematic barriers to those jobs less likely to be affected by the pandemic, lower than average wages, and greater employment instability all contribute to African American workers being more vulnerable to an economic downturn. Both pre-pandemic and in 2020, counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are overrepresented by counties with a majority African American population.”
These alarming rates aren’t just for individual workers either; they’re for each worker and their family members. Earlier this year, The Impact of Coronavirus on Households survey asked more than 3,400 people across America about their experiences with financial and food insecurities during the pandemic. They were particularly interested in honing in on larger cities like Chicago, New York City, Houston, and Los Angeles. Larger urban areas often keep poor people at the margins and located next to liquor stores and areas without sufficient resources for healthy foods.
When analyzing their findings, Kelly Anne Smith of Forbes explained how for Black, Latinx, and Native American communities in particular, COVID-19 has worsened the harm caused by systemic racism. “[W]hat’s surprising is that unprecedented federal spending has done little to dent these problems, even on a short-term basis,” Smith said.
However, for many marginalized communities, this isn’t a surprise. There has been an effort by many government leaders, including President Donald Trump, to portray this as an #AllLivesMatter issue, when in reality, it’s Black and brown people who are suffering the most. Trump has done nothing to address the needs of BIPOC communities in need of food access, let alone protection.
The official government website continues this propaganda while there are families starving. The White House website claims the president is “utilizing every resource at his disposal to reinforce the food supply chain through shutdowns caused by the invisible enemy,” but this clearly isn’t true as the rates of food insecurity have always been ignored under his presidency.
Despite all odds, there are some amazing organizations that have stepped up to fill in the seemingly endless void of assistance that communities have been desperately needing. One of those organizations is Build Bronzeville, which is dedicated to protecting and promoting food, culture, and community for and by Black culture in Chicago’s South Side. In addition to creating Chicago’s first shipping container marketplace that provides Black business owners with the opportunity to support themselves and their communities by providing apparel, cuisine, and resources, Build Bronzeville also tackles food insecurity.
Sandria Washington, the director of engagement and partnerships for Build Bronzeville, explained that as well as retail shops, they’ve offered programs such as free outdoor fitness classes to encourage people to be outside and active while also social distancing. “As of June, we started doing something called Boxville Community Day, where we distribute free boxes of groceries, fresh produce, and toiletries,” said Washington. “We’ve offered free COVID testing and free vision exams for children. Essentially on that day, we’re giving food and then also providing resources to the community.”
Similarly, in large urban areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami, fully stocked fridges have been popping up for those in need—but they didn’t get there by magic. These community fridges thrive on mutual aid, and people can support them through donating food, volunteering, or even partnering with the organizers to fight food insecurity. Laura Alvarez, an artist and co-founder of the nonprofit BxArts Factory, has painted three “friendly fridges” in the New York Bronx neighborhood to help destigmatize the shame that many people feel when they utilize these “no questions asked” fridges. Refrigerators are also popping up in Chicago with The Love Fridge, a “Chicago based initiative created to nourish our communities through mutual aid by offering solutions to food scarcity and food waste,” according to their mission statement. Additionally, freedge.org allows people, no matter where they live in America, to start their own “freedge,” which is as simple as finding an indoor or outdoor location to store the community fridge, working electricity, and a surrounding community that needs it.
There have been numerous opportunities for people to organize and support their communities, including efforts by local farmers and businesses. In Houston, Ivy Leaf Farms’ lead farmer Ivy Walls has been working since 2015 to promote and support Black and brown communities by providing farm fresh crops. After working closely and safely with COVID-19 patients, she decided to take new measures with her farming. As explained on the farm’s website, “Places that were once easy for [Walls’] fellow community members to access have now become inaccessible due to the fear of the virus. Production mobility adds solace to these unprecedented times, and she hopes to continue to foster new developments that will impact the community.”
In August, Walls was awarded a Beygood Grant for $10,000 from Beyoncé’s foundation, in partnership with the NAACP. Her farm has even developed a mobile branch called the Green HOUwse, which delivers crops to the Sunnyside Hospital communities. Proceeds from this mobile branch go toward produce and local Houston farmers.
While there are so many strides that people continue to make to support their local communities, especially during the pandemic, there is still so much more needed. Even with COVID-19 response funds, local food pantries, community fridges, community gardens and more, the need never ends. However, the resources will, and in some places already have, started to dwindle. Even with fickle claims of an elusive stimulus bill from the Republican Party—which was supposed to be a priority after the election—it’s basically dust in the wind.
Real change won’t take place until BIPOC communities living in poverty and food deserts are no longer invisible, erased, and dismissed. The COVID-19 relief plan proposed by President-elect Joe Biden may help, but there needs to be a swift ideological shift between how marginalized communities are viewed. While they are, and have always been, the backbones of American society, they continue to come last.