Wanda Blalock arrived 105 minutes early to be the first motorist in line to receive free produce and a hot meal at Tanglewood Park in Prince George’s County.
The 67-year-old retired educator who worked with special needs children said she doesn’t mind waiting to receive food because she enjoys seeing other people.
“I sit in the house by myself with my dog,” Blalock, of Lanham, said Friday inside her vehicle at the park in Riverdale. “Seeing all these cars and people in line isn’t surprising. We need this help.”
A document released Thursday, June 16 by the Capital Area Food Bank amplifies how food remains vital for residents in the D.C. area, also called the DMV.
The organization’s 2022 Hunger Report, completed in partnership with the NORC at the University of Chicago, summarizes how it distributed 64 million meals last year, the highest amount ever and double the levels in 2019.
In terms of food insecurity, or lack of resources to provide affordable and healthy food options, about one-third of the DMV experienced some level of food insecurity, according to the food bank’s survey responded to by about 3,770 people, ages 18 and older.
The respondents come from four jurisdictions in Virginia (the city of Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties), two counties in Maryland (Prince George’s and Montgomery) and Washington, D.C.
The report reveals a disproportionate need for resources based on race.
About 55% of those who identified as “Hispanic” and another 50% of Black respondents said they have experienced food insecurity.
All seven jurisdictions experienced at least 21% of their respondents admitting to food insecurity.
Prince William County and the District tied for second in food insecurity at 36%.
In response to a question about financial health on “how confident are you that you can keep up with your expenses?” about 30% of District residents chose “somewhat confident.” However, 35% chose “not very confident and not at all confident.”
In contrast, 36% of Prince William residents selected “somewhat confident” and 27% not very confident and not at all confident.
The majority Black jurisdiction of Prince George’s County ranked the highest in food insecurity at 48%.
Prince George’s residents who responded to the same question about financial health chose 40% in being somewhat confident and 31% not very confident and not at all confident.
The food bank’s report outlines several recommendations to decrease food insecurity which include:
- Increase the minimum wage.
- Offer paid family leave.
- Expand eligibility for programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Prince George’s officials created a task force to battle food insecurity in the county with various neighborhoods, specifically inside the Beltway, earmarked as food deserts.
Besides the food bank, other organizations have stepped up to the plate including Christian Life Center of Riverdale Park which manages an outreach ministry, “Passion and Compassion,” and which distributed up to 30,000 pounds of fruit, vegetables and hot meals Friday.
The Rev. Ben Slye, pastor of Christian Life, said weekly food distributions at the church once averaged between 125 to 150 families. But as the pandemic surged, the need increased to at least 350 families per week forcing the program to move to a larger location in Tanglewood Park.
“Is it shocking? Not really,” said Sandra King of Bowie in Prince George’s, who pays $536 twice a year for cancer medicine. “Grocery store prices are high. Inflation in gas, water and electricity have increased. These food giveaways are a supplement.”
Francine Henderson, 62, also of Bowie, sat inside her air-conditioned minivan with her six-year-old granddaughter, Journey Henderson, and stared at her rearview mirror looking at the dozens of vehicles behind her.
“I never thought we would have something like this that would shut the whole country down,” said Henderson, who receives $606 a month in social security but continues to await approval to receive disability income. “We’re [outside] burning gas just to wait in line for food. We should not have a problem like this. This line of cars is unbelievable.”