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Food assistance organizations in metro Atlanta prepare for increase demand this summer

The Atlanta Community Food Bank has experienced a 40 percent increase in demand over the past 18 months.

ATLANTA — As the last week of school approaches in many Atlanta area school districts, families are eagerly anticipating the start of summer break. However, for families struggling to make ends meet, summertime meal programs are crucial to ensure their children do not go hungry during the break.

Local preparations are already underway to address the anticipated increase in need this summer. 

The Atlanta Community Food Bank has experienced a 40 percent increase in demand over the past 18 months. Staff expects the numbers to rise once school is out. 

"During the pandemic, everyone knows anyone involved in food banking saw record numbers. But ironically, we're back close to the amount that we were distributing during the pandemic," Kenny Hill said.

Hill, the chief supply chain officer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, highlighted the growing issue of food insecurity across Georgia. He explained that the rising cost of groceries has stretched people's budgets, making it difficult to afford essentials like eggs.

The recent period of high gas prices and the expiration of extended federal SNAP benefits have also contributed to more families turning to food banks and their partners for assistance.

"We're leaning into our relationships to make sure that we're able to continue to provide for those families and our service area that are in need," he said. 

The warehouse at the Atlanta Community Food Bank is packed with orders for various food pantries. CEO Kyle Waide emphasized the financial strain of maintaining operations, stating that they currently spend close to $2 million every month solely on purchasing food. This represents a fourfold increase from pre-pandemic times.

"Close to 200,000 households are accessing food from our network every month. And those households are really diverse. So it is certainly impacting families with children really significantly. And that's going to increase as we get into the summer," Waide said.

Waide also highlighted the importance of school meals, which many children rely on, and the absence of which becomes a burden on families' budgets during the summer break. Feeding America estimates that one in eight children in the United States is facing hunger, underscoring the severity of the issue.

To combat this problem, Chris Minor from the Gwinnett County Department of Parks and Recreation explained that its annual summer meals program is attempting to address the increasing need. The demand for meal assistance skyrocketed during the pandemic, then dipped slightly, but is now on the rise again due to inflation and other factors. As a result, the department is preparing for a high number of hungry kids in need of support.

Gwinnett County will have 21 sites offering free meals starting from May 31 until Aug. 2, aiming to provide nourishment to those in need.

The Atlanta area's food banks and community organizations are working tirelessly to ensure that children have access to nutritious meals throughout the summer break. Their efforts are vital in combating food insecurity and supporting families who are facing financial challenges.

More information about Gwinnett County's Summer Meals Program can be found here.


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