As the D.C. metropolitan area approaches the sixth month of a public health emergency that has significantly slowed economic activity and decimated many bank accounts, food affordability and accessibility has become more of the elephant in the room, especially as masses of people continuously converge on food giveaways.
During one such event this week, hundreds of women, men, and children in search of fresh produce waited hours in a long line meandering through the parking lot of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Southeast, while several others occupied cars that formed a line stretching more than a mile along 30th Street.
“Since COVID-19, they’ve doubled and tripled the food price. Just because people are getting stimulus checks and other stuff, they want to cash in,” Michelle Porter, a Southeast resident, told The Informer as she stood in line along Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday afternoon during the food giveaway, the latest of 10 organized by the DC Dream Center.
“I saw this event twice, but decided to see what they got going on out here,” continued Porter, a grandmother. “Since I’m eating more veggies and fruits, this can make it easier. Right now it’s looking good, We make sure we get plenty of food for us [but] this thing is far from over.”
A report by the Capital Area Food Bank last month predicted that within the next calendar year, the D.C. metropolitan region’s food-insecure population, currently at more than 400,000, could grow at a rate between 48 and 60 percent. The producers of the report attributed the jump to rising food prices and increasing consumer demand.
At a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture stands likely to tighten eligibility for SNAP benefits, those without a steady income stand to lose the most in a pandemic with no end in sight.
Ernest Clover, executive director of the DC Dream Center, said such conditions inspired members of the organization to pivot from mentoring and tutoring to supplying fresh food and stocking a community pantry.
“Blessings of Hope and Operation Blessing made it possible for us to get this fresh produce from Pennsylvania and Virginia to over 500 families today,” Clover said. “Unfortunately we’ve seen the need increase. We hoped that people could get back to work and have steady income, but that’s not the case.”
As of Sunday, more than 13,270 people in the District have contracted the coronavirus. Professionals in the public health space have spoken of a silent epidemic where communities of color, in the absence of affordable produce, are left to patronize fast-food restaurants and other sources of unhealthy food.
Since mid-March, when the District’s public health state of emergency ushered in waves of job losses, community groups and nonprofits have stepped up to meet residents’ pressing needs.
Through the development of partnerships and a citywide distribution system, DC Mutual Aid brought food to populations experiencing food insecurity. Martha’s Table, along with several area churches, has also hosted events of benefit to struggling residents.
Though she remains grateful for the extra help, a local elder by the name of L. Brown suggested that services could be better targeted to District seniors, a population she said has been overlooked since the pandemic started.
On Monday, she took the bus from Kenilworth and arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church 30 minutes before the event started, with no idea of how she would get her goods back home.
“It’s difficult for seniors to get food. People don’t bring stuff to our building [and] when I found out about giveaways, it’s after the fact,” Brown said.
“I don’t think the seniors are getting fair play in this,” she added. “Able-bodied people seem to be getting all the testing and resources, while people like me have to come out and stand a mile in line for groceries. The extra food stamps help, but that’s been my experience.”