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Pandemic sees elevated food insecurity in region

Manna Food Pantry

As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, local food insecurity remains high. In 2021, food assistance organizations worked to feed thousands. 2022 will be no different.

“What we saw in 2021 was that the increase in need that we saw in 2020 was still remaining,” said Cyndy Bagget, vice president of development and marketing at Feeding the Gulf Coast. “We did see it level off some, but we were met with some food-supply issues in the same way that individuals were, with shortages from the average consumer.”

While struggling with supply-chain issues, Feeding the Gulf Coast has also seen a decrease in food donations in 2020 and 2021. Because of this, the organization has purchased larger amounts of food to bridge the gap of food available.

Manna Food Pantries, a food-assistance agency based in Pensacola, has also experienced an increase in demand for food with a decrease in food donations. In 2021, demand for food was up 63% compared to 2019.

“In 2021, we had one of our major food drives canceled, The National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp out Hunger Food Drive," said Kerri Smayda, development director at Manna. “A lot of food drives that we would ordinarily see with community organizations, groups and businesses, we just didn’t see that food come in in 2021. Increased need paired with decline in food donations was probably the biggest challenge that we faced in 2021.”

Despite the increase in demand for food because of COVID, both organizations say that there was less of a demand in 2021 than 2020. Bagget from Feeding the Gulf Coast says that the pandemic brought the highest increase in demand in the organization's history.

“In 2020 we saw a significant increase, but the demand and the need we saw in 2021 was higher than any other time in the history of the food bank, apart from 2020,” she said.

Feeding the Gulf Coast, which encompasses 24 counties in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida estimates that a little over 6 million nutritious meals were served in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties in 2021. Manna, which serves Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, served nearly 495,000 nutritious meals.

Coming into 2022, food assistance organizations anticipate seeing a continued increase in demand for food as the pandemic lingers.

“The effects of the pandemic will be long felt. What happened over the course of the last nearly two years now is not something that people will quickly rebound from,” said Smayda.

In the new year, Feeding the Gulf Coast and Manna Food Pantries will continue to look for gaps in service to provide nutritious meals to those who are either not served or underserved. They will also continue to strive toward their goal of feeding those in need through community outreach.

Smayda also thanks volunteers and donors for their help in serving those in need.

“This is an extraordinarily generous community, and we have been able to meet the need through these challenges because of the support of people right here,” she said.

If you are interested in receiving meals or volunteering for these organizations, visit the Feeding the Gulf Coast or Manna Food Pantries website.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.