America is in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. 1 Recent surveys suggest that people are going hungry. However, surveys also suggest that federal aid packages amounting to more than $2 trillion dollars have prevented a surge in poverty2. This would mean that people are not in poverty but are still going hungry. How is this possible?
Food insecurity is broadly measured to include families who lack food, those who access poor quality food, and those who suffer anxiety due to possible food uncertainty.
Prior to COVID-19 the government calculated 37 million people to be food insecure.3 Yet only 30% of these families fall beneath the poverty threshold of $28,170.00 for a family of four. So then, Food Pantry line-ups do not necessarily represent households that are officially considered poor.
Many families who are not experiencing poverty, by government standards, yet are hungry include low-wage workers with high expenses for things like rent, childcare or medical bills. Some experience extreme challenges to stable income through divorce or family deaths. Add to this reality the fact that, currently food prices are at the highest level seen in almost fifty years. These factors, in combination, have caused food insecurity to rise even where officially recognized standards for measuring poverty have not.
The sudden economic crisis related to COVID-19 represented an income disruption that middle-class families may have addressed by using savings or accessing credit. These coping measures are often not available to the working poor. Lisa Gennetian, an economist at Duke University suggests that a low income can be difficult, but a sudden change in that income exacerbates insecurity.4
The pandemic affected not only the poor but also the near poor – those just above the official definition of poverty. Economic hardship and shifting patterns of work availability are swelling the ranks of the near poor and sharply increasing food insecurity. This is especially true of immigrants. Those who are undocumented are unable to access most government aid, this represents about eleven million persons.5 It also affects about four million children who live in mixed-status families but are American citizens.6
Three different surveys offer differing statistics related to the percentage of adults who are food insecure. The lowest estimate is 18% of adults, which represents an 11% increase from pre-COVID counts.7 The hardest hit demographic of all is children.
Thanks be to God for his compassion and care through the people of Park Street Church who have given so generously to respond to this difficult situation! Whether through financial donation, volunteer time or prayer – God has positioned us to be in the midst of this crisis working with and for those vulnerable to food insecurity. We are thankful for our four partnerships with Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle, Central Assembly of God Church, First Congregational Church of Revere and Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Malden. With thankfulness to God’s grace we can also report that Park Street Church launched its very own Food Bank – which will supply food pantries with non-perishable food. And, of course, Park Street Church has been involved in the long-term work of Thursday Night Outreach (TNO) and SaturDay Outreach (SDO) – offering friendship, gospel conversations, food and clothing to our unhoused neighbors.
Food Pantries and Food Banks are not the ultimate solution – secure jobs, more equity in education, financial management training, lower cost housing and childcare are just a few of the measures for success that must be attended to. For issues like these that typically co-exist with food insecurity, City Engagement is currently in a listening and learning stance, seeking to understand who is already present in Boston addressing these concerns, how we can partner with them, and what our own long-term strategies of involvement might look like.
In the meantime, as a church we can:
- be devoted to prayer on behalf of the individual households who are most vulnerable
- join prayer vigils on Friday nights where together we bring these concerns before God and entreat him for wisdom and guidance,
- volunteer with teams who are on the ground responding to hunger and other issues
- continue to be a neighbor to those within our own area of influence: family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and those we pass by on the street who may be needy.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
2 See Urban Institute Report : https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/102521/2020-poverty-projections_1.pdf
as well as report from Center on Poverty and Social Policy https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/coronavirus-cares-act-forecasting-poverty-estimates
7 https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/102579/more-than-one-in-six-adults-were-food-insecure-two-months-into-the-covid-19-recession.pdf, https://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/state-food-insecurity.html,