As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, more people than ever are going hungry — but across the country, volunteers are stepping up to help.
Before the pandemic, more than 35 million people in the U.S. struggled with hunger, according to Feeding America. But now, with millions of Americans unemployed and a second relief check uncertain, the non-profit estimates that more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, including 17 million children.
Many families are struggling with decisions they've never had to make before.
This year, more than one in four children are going hungry. In Los Angeles County, California more than six hundred thousand children are food insecure. Olivia Ordaz, a mother of two, said she's just scraping by and trying to stay strong for her husband and kids. "We always try to cook something different so they don't see the same type of food every day," she said, wiping away tears. "It's hard — sometimes they do go to sleep hungry."
This year, food banks have been overwhelmed by long lines and the number of people who need help, many of them for the first time. In response, food banks had to increase service like never before. On some days, the Houston Food Bank in Texas supplies 1 million pounds of food to needy people; before the pandemic, the group's average daily distribution was 450,000 pounds.
Yet TODAY found that volunteers across the country are stepping up. For the past 11 years, Dana Cooper has volunteered two days a week at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization in Philadelphia.
"Anybody and everybody that needs food are gonna get some of this food," he told TODAY during a recent shift sorting items.
In Harrison, Maine, the Harrison Food Bank is now feeding more than 500 families a week — more than double than it was doing before the pandemic.
People are also finding other ways to fill the hunger gap on a community level. In New York City, chef Millie Peartree opted against reopening her shuttered restaurant and instead shifted her focus to providing meals for children in the Bronx, the city's poorest borough. In Chicago, baker Maya-Camille Broussard aims to reduce food insecurity among young people by teaching elementary school students from low-income communities about buying healthy groceries and cooking.
And in cities across the country, community fridges are popping up, as a grassroots way to feed the hungry. They're found in public spaces like sidewalks or storefronts, and people from the community keep them stocked with food for those in need to take freely.