Year in the Bubble: Second Harvest sees food needs skyrocket during the pandemic

SPOKANE, Wash. — The pandemic exacerbated the need for food in a year in the bubble. With so many losing jobs in the last year, more people didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.

Over the course of the last year, people in Spokane and the Inland Northwest waited hours in line to make sure they had something to eat.

Through the sunshine, rain and snow, people did whatever they could to get food on the table for the families.

“We’re getting the basics to survive, and I think it’s been critical,” said Michael Ward, a Second Harvest client.

Ward tells 4 News Now he’s grateful for Second Harvest helping him and his family through the pandemic. If Ward didn’t have Second Harvest, he said they would be struggling greatly.

“And, having to borrow money from friends and family,” he added.

Ward is just one of thousands of families who waited in line to get food from Second Harvest.  At one point, people waited as long as three hours to make sure they had something to eat.

“You’re so happy you can provide food, but it’s just heart-wrenching to think people are sitting in line for three hours just to be able to get a nice box of food,” said Eric Williams, the community partnerships director with Second Harvest.

Seeing the long lines of people waiting in all kinds of weather, it showed the cold hard reality that people were sorely in need.

“Unfortunately, the need has been off the charts,” Williams added.

In 2019, Second Harvest held 141 mobile markets. That number tripled to 463 in 2020. These mobile markets went to more than two dozen places in the Inland Northwest, as Second Harvest serves 26 counties in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

The demand was so high, sometimes the nonprofit worried it wouldn’t have enough food to give. The cost of some foods increased and suppliers were having a tough time getting the food to them.

“Something like chicken noodle soup – we’d order it up and they said ‘Uh, won’t be in two weeks, it’ll be in six weeks and then at six weeks they said, ‘We can’t even get it,'” Williams said.

Second Harvest Year In Bubble FixIn total in 2020, more than 52.9 million pounds of food were given away. That was an increase of 58 percent compared to 2019, which 33.6 million pounds of food were given away. According to USDA calculations, Williams said that equates to more than 44 million meals given away in 2020, which was more than the 28 million meals in 2019.

In addition to all that data, at a mobile market distribution in May, a survey was done of the people who went through. That day, 785 cars came through. Of those cars, 314 drivers said that was the first time they went to a free food distribution since COVID started.

“That shows you how the whole world shifted and the amount of need just really increased,” Williams said.

As the need for food grew, the need for help went up, too.

The Washington National Guard was called in to help last April, with as many as nearly 70 guard members helping out at one point. This was in addition to the volunteers for Second Harvest, which also had to be reduced because of COVID concerns with some volunteers.

“It’s frustrating to know that there is still a lot of demand out there, a lot of people have food insecurity.” said David Troyke, a volunteer.

Second Harvest says the need for food is leveling off now. With more than 3.8 million pounds of food given away in January, down to 3.6 million pounds of food given away in February.

Nationwide, Feeding America estimated that 45 million people, including 15 million children, didn’t know where their next meal was coming from in 2020. It’s estimating a lower amount of people facing food insecurity in 2021, forecasting that 42 million people, including 13 million children, will still need food.

RELATED: WA National Guard members to demobilize from Second Harvest

The National Guard has also been demobilized from Second Harvest and will move onto other places it is needed. March 26 will be the last day guard members will help out. A public affairs officer with the Washington National Guard says its members have been helping Second Harvest longer than a normal overseas combat deployment – which is normally around nine months.

“We were very fortunate to have them, so we’re adjusting to that,” Williams said. “We’re also then bringing back more of our volunteers.”

Second Harvest believes that the need for food will outlast the virus. Through it all, it says it’ll be there through any type of weather, to help families weather the storms they’re going through.

“It’s been critical for us. We can’t thank them enough,” Ward said. “It’s just been a god-send.”

The organization has a list of mobile markets scheduled out for the near future. To find out where and when, click here.

RELATED: Second Harvest gets $9K donation from Maverik, thanks to customers rounding up purchases