For many people, thinking about the holiday season – those cherished times primarily in November and December – conjures up heartwarming images of family gathering around the dinner table to enjoy bountiful helpings of food and bonding. Indeed, nearly every popular depiction of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Diwali includes food in some way. But for many families, food insecurity is a year-round struggle, and the holidays are no exception.
Food Insecurity in 2020
As recently as 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated as many as 37 million people – including 6 million children – were living in food-insecure households. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, an estimated additional 17 million people will face food insecurity in 2020, bringing the total to a sobering 54 million Americans. The challenges of COVID, such as social distancing measures and economic hardships, make it especially difficult for these families to access affordable, nutritious food on a regular basis.
Hunger During the Holiday Season
When the holiday season rolls around, these individuals are inundated with bountiful food imagery from movies, television, print media, social media, and elsewhere, and may feel so pressured to “put food on the table” that they resort to low-cost, low-nutrition options just to satisfy their desire to live up to perceived cultural and social expectations.
Unfortunately, these low-quality food options may do more harm than good. Fast food restaurants, gas stations, and simple meal items containing few – if any – healthy nutrients are common among food-insecure households, so it’s no surprise a growing body of research supports a link between food insecurity and chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
In many cases, food-insecure families make tradeoffs in order to access food. Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America study analyzed several of the difficult decisions many of their recipient households (median annual income of $9,175) had to make. For example:
- 69% had to choose between food and utilities
- 66% had to choose between food and medical care
- 57% had to choose between food and housing
- 79% purchase inexpensive, unhealthy food
- 40% water down food or drinks
- 35% sell or pawn personal property in order to stretch their food budget
Many families also feel pressured to participate in the gift-giving aspects of many end-of-year holidays, including manufactured events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so it’s not difficult to imagine the additional trade-offs some families are likely to make in order to meet these additional expectations.
COVID-19 Presents New Challenges for Community Food Program
Historically, many food-insecure households and individuals have turned to charitable community programs like food banks, volunteer food delivery, and congregate meal centers in order to get the nutrition they need. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has placed incredible stress on these programs: the number of people seeking help from food banks has increased 60% since the start of the pandemic, and some organizations predict the U.S. will need an additional 8 billion meals in order to meet increased demand.
To make matters worse, food banks and similar meal programs had to buy food items instead of relying on donations due in large part to consumer stockpiling and supply chain challenges. Even if these groups manage to get enough food to meet demand, many are also struggling with a shortage of volunteer workers to get the food to those who need it most.
Give the Gift of Home-Delivered Meals
Do you know someone who may be food insecure during the holidays? Click here to learn more about the Hunger Challenge, an annual endeavor by Mom’s Meals to help connect vulnerable individuals with home-delivered meals. A single phone call could make a remarkable impact for someone in your community this holiday season.