What is the relationship between food insecurity and COVID?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many more families to be food insecure, and has posed unique challenges for grandfamilies or grandparents and other relatives raising children whose parents cannot raise them. Pre-pandemic, many families relied on food provided through schools and nonprofit food banks. Schools, which closed due to the pandemic, needed to pivot to create methods to distribute breakfast and lunch. Some schools were quick to create solutions, like sending food through bus routes, whereas others did not distribute food effectively for families who could not drive or stand in long lines. Due to widespread and immediate unemployment after the public health emergency began, foodbanks experienced dramatic surges in demand and limited supply. It’s not easy to forget the long lines we saw in our communities and virtually every night on the evening news.
For grandfamily caregivers, all of these challenges were and have been heightened. Almost half of all grandparents raising grandchildren in the United States are age 60 and older, more likely to be disabled than parents, and are disproportionally Black or Native American. These factors cause greater risk of contracting and dying from the virus. Prior to the widespread availability of vaccinations, physical limitations and increased risk of getting sick made it virtually impossible to wait in long lines. If caregivers could afford to purchase food at grocery stores, they often couldn’t take advantage of senior only shopping hours as the young children they raise were not welcome and many had no one to watch the children. As one grandfamily caregiver, Generations United’s GRAND Voice Victoria Gray, noted, “… I went to the store at 5am for seniors, but the truck was in the back! ... I appreciate that they allowed us to go early, but it didn’t help that there was no food on the shelves yet. And the kids weren’t allowed to come in either.” Through a national survey, 600 grandfamily caregivers added their voices to Ms. Gray’s to further elevate these heightened challenges. The survey results are featured in Generations United’s 2020 State of Grandfamilies Report, Facing A Pandemic. Among the findings, 43 percent of grandfamily caregivers feared leaving their home for food and 32 percent arrived at food pick-up sites only to find no food remaining.
Solutions to these challenges were developed around the United States, including increased federal funding for food programs and greater flexibility with rules for those programs. Generations United is working to carry forward the lessons learned from the last 18 months and advocate for continued increased resources and flexibility for all families, and especially for uniquely vulnerable, yet strong, grandfamilies.