WA food insecurity doubles during COVID-19 pandemic

Second Harvest Volunteers

The need for food assistance in Washington state has doubled this year as the COVID-19 pandemic caused record high unemployment rates.

The Washington state Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that the state is experiencing a 50% increase in food insecurity. In 2019, 1.12 million Washingtonians relied on state food assistance programs. This year, their models show 2.2 million people are in need. Additionally, local food banks, like 2nd Harvest in Pasco, are helping people that have never needed food assistance before. Jason Clark, CEO of 2nd Harvest, said in the past 27 years of working within food banks, he has never seen seen something like this before.

“It’s at least 2 times the number of people we would normally see,” Clark said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, food banks have also recalibrated how they offer services. Mass gatherings are unsafe so 2nd Harvest has conducted mobile food distributions throughout eastern Washington. The non-profit partnered with Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick to establish contactless pick-up events. Clark said the organization started noticing the greater need because of the influx of cars showing up to get food.

“We are seeing historic numbers of people in food bank lines,” Clark said, “Almost half of the people that showed up had never been to a food bank before. So it’s kind of that experience again and again that there is a large need and we are working to close that gap.”

The gap may get harder to fill though. WSDA anticipates the greatest need for assistance to happen later this year between October and December. With wetter winter conditions, Clark said the organization is looking at their options but still wants to get food out to Washingtonians.

“This year we are starting to think about it differently,” he said, “We may be chaining up and maybe we will need to curtail some distribution points but we will need to make sure our mobile market truck is still going out.”

WSDA officials said in a Thursday virtual webinar that they don’t expect anymore financial funding for the rest of the year, putting more pressure on the state to fulfill needs. More funding is needed, more volunteers are needed and food banks are trying to plan ahead.

If you would like to volunteer or donate:

If you are seeking assistance: