September 4: How to Fight Hunger as it Grows in America

One in 10 families is expected to go hungry each week as a result of COVID-19
One in 10 families is expected to go hungry each week as a result of COVID-19.

While the number of COVID-19 cases and growth in different sates dominates thenews (45,601 case and 1,078 deaths in the U.S. in the past 24 hours), the economic suffering continues to receive little attention.  Perhaps the most immediate result of the sudden economic collapse created by the shutdown of multiple businesses is families with lost income suffering from hunger. 

It takes a while to evict renters and even longer to foreclose on a mortgage.  If you don’t pay the electric or water bill, you can usually figure on 60 days or more before you get disconnect threats.  But when you have no money to spend at the grocery store, the immediate result is a lack of food, leading to smaller or skipped meals, empty stomachs, and hungry children. 

More than 50 million Americans are expect to face some food insecurity this year.  That means they won’t know where their next meal is coming from.  The number has climbed 45 percent, thanks largely to the coronavirus.  Since the pandemic started, about 1 in 10 families are experiencing hunger in an average week.

In addition to those out of work, the rising cost of food, driven by the pandemic, has impacted people with fixed incomes, who rely on government programs, or who are barely making ends meet.

Preppers and Food Storage

As preppers, I expect most of us stock food for the hard times.  I know I do.  My expectation is that this storage food will help feed us in a disaster, whether a short-term emergency or an end-of-the-world scenario.  Many preppers find that their food storage also comes in handy during a period of unexpected unemployment, a medical emergency, a layoff, or other time when things don’t go as planned. And that’s just fine, because a disaster or emergency can be individual as well as regional or national.  The important thing is that the food is there when you need it.

If you don’t see yourself buying rice, beans, peanut butter, canned soups, pasta and sauce, and a case or two of ramen in the event that there is a blizzard, hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster, maybe the threat of unemployment or a pandemic that leaves you and your family hungry will be sufficient to change your ways.  Storing food just makes good sense, and the time to do it is when it is plentiful and you can afford it.  Whether you are a prepper or just worried, fill your pantry.

What to do if you are Food Insecure

If you find yourself suddenly unemployed and unable to buy food, consider doing the following:

Apply for SNAP (food stamps) and Other Social Welfare Programs

Reach out to your county or state and apply for every support program you can, including SNAP, which is commonly known as food stamps.  If you have young children, enroll in WIC, school lunch, and any other program available. Don’t be embarrassed about this; these programs are a safety net and we all need a helping hand from time to time.  You’ve probably paid taxes for years.  Now it’s time to get a little something back when you need it.

In addition to food support, they may have rent assistance program, ways to pay your past due heat or electric bills, and free medical insurance for you or your kids.

Visit Food Banks and Food Pantries

Food bank
Volunteers package means and food at a food bank. Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

These can be huge and serve a city or other large area, or they can also be small, run by a local church.  Ask your social worker (you’ll probably be assigned one when you apply for welfare benefits, above) for a list of local food pantries or research them online.  Some may only be every other week, so you may have to go to more than one. 

Change your Meal Planning and Shopping Habits

This is critical to stretching your limited food budget. 

  • Don’t look at meat as a main dish but consider it a flavor enhancer.  Use it in dishes, instead of as a dish.  For example, serve small amounts of meat over or with pasta (meat sauce), rice (stir fry), with vegetables, or noodles (turkey tetrazzini), in soup, etc. 
  • If you buy meat, stick with chicken and pork and get cheaper cuts.  (That probably means no more chicken breasts unless you buy the entire bird.)  Hot dogs are also an inexpensive meal, especially when server with a can of baked beans
  • Move away from buying ready-to-eat processed foods or heat-and-eat meals and towards buying ingredients that you use to make meals. Buy a box of pancake mix instead of frozen waffles.  Invest in a tub of oatmeal instead of pre-flavored packets.  Buy a bag of potatoes and bake them instead of buying scalloped potatoes or another “instant” dish.
  • Eliminate junk foods and soda from your menu.  Just don’t buy it.  Don’t spend limited funds on empty calories when you need nutritious, healthy food. 
  • If something has sugar or corn syrup among its first three ingredients, don’t get it.  Look for a healthier alternative.  In just a few days, your body will stop craving sugar.
  • Cook casseroles and other larger meals and plan to have leftovers.  Just be sure to eat the leftovers rather than letting things go to waste. Dinner on Monday can lunch on Wednesday or dinner again on Thursday night.
  • Serve an inexpensive side dish with every meal, like rice or potatoes.  Or serve something over rice or noodles.  These are tasty, filling, and inexpensive.  Even bread and butter can help fill up a hollow belly.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season and not imported from Brazil or a far-away state like Florida or California.  Local, in-season fruits and vegetables should be less expensive and fresher.  For example, when strawberries ripen in the spring, buy strawberries.  During peach season, buy peaches.  In the fall, enjoy apples.  Consider freezing or canning produce when it is inexpensive.  Then you can enjoy it in the off-season without having to pay higher prices for imported fruit.
  • Buy in quantity if you have the funds to do so.  Save, store, or preserve items for consumption later.  Buying in quantity can often save you money.
  • Don’t buy food at the local convenience store; go to a large grocery store where the prices are lower.
  • Buy less expensive brands, generics, and items on sale.  Sign up for coupons online and get the circular for your local grocery store.  Buy efficiently.
  • Find out when your local grocery store puts out day-old-bread or discounts meats that expire soon and shop right after that.  I used to scoop up expensive baked goods a 50 to 75 percent off when I learned that they marked them down at 7 p.m.
  • Save leftover vegetables in the freezer and when you have accumulated enough, use them in a stew or soup.
  • Avoid paying extra for convenience.  If you are unemployed, you can use your time to bake or make things from scratch instead of using your limited grocery dollars to pay for convenience.  This includes baking bread.

Raise your own Food to Combat Hunger

If you have land, consider planting a garden.  Focus on rich, dense, solid foods that produce well like carrots, potatoes, green beans, peas, cabbage, and squash.  Yes, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers are nice, but squash and potatoes are going to fill you up.  Cabbages get big and store for months.  Green beans can produce prolifically.

A cabbage in a garden
A head of cabbage is large and versatile enough that you can make can many meals from it. Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash
  • Also consider raising chickens or rabbits for meat and eggs, or simply growing potatoes in a stack of old tires (Google it).  These may require time, effort, and some up front capital, but if you’re unemployed, you got the first two in spades.
  • You might be able to raise catfish in a barrel or trout or bass in a pond.

Barter to Fight Hunger

  • Trade labor for food.  See if a local farmer, restaurant or someone else can uses your help in return for feeding you or providing you will food you can use to feed your family.  During the Great Depression, vagabonds would often chop wood or do another chore in return for a hot meal.  Today you could mow someone’s lawn, wash their car, etc.
  • If you raise your own food, trade your excess with someone else who has a different crop. See our article on barter for more details.
  • Trade skills for food or cash.  If you are an out of work hair stylist, cut hair in return for food. If you have mechanical skills, build or repair something for someone. 

Hunt and Fish

  • In addition to traditional approach to fishing, look into the legality of using a fish trap, a net, or a trot line to increase your harvest
  • Consider running a trap line with traps and snares, if legal in your location. 
  • Hunt only during the season, but in some places wild boar may be legal to harvest all year. Check your local laws.
  • Hunting and fishing can provide vital protein, but serve with a rice or potato side dish whenever possible to extend the meal.

Look into Other Ways to Obtain Food               

  • Ask a farmer if you can glean his fields after the harvest.
  • Learn to harvest wild foods.  Watch how-to videos but buy a guide for your region of the country and carry it with you.  Be careful to correctly identify each plant.  You might be surprised at how many things you consider weeds are edible.
  • Find out how your local grocer disposes of items that are damaged or no longer fresh enough for them to sell.  See if you can do a little dumpster diving and salvage some of it.
  • Ask a friend or family member who is not laid off.  Ask if your church has a program.

Consider a Temporary Career Change

Even in times of high unemployment, there are often jobs available.  Unfortunately, they are jobs that people don’t want because they are dirty, stinky, or dangerous.  When you have exhausted all your other options, consider taking one of these jobs that other people feel are “beneath them.”

If the alternative to hunger is working a job you don’t like, take the job. Here are some suggestions for jobs you might not otherwise consider: Slaughterhouse/meat processing, working at a landfill, cleaning portable toilets, emptying septic tanks, working at a strip club, being a janitor or one of the many other cleaning/sanitation jobs available.

Alternatively, look for jobs that are hiring, even if they are outside your area of expertise.  Maybe you hate the idea of being a truck driver because you have a college degree, but swallow your pride and you may find out that truck driving is a great career.

Look for side gigs like pet sitting or dog walking.  Look for rich people and think about what you can do to assist them, for a fee of course. 

You don’t have to do it forever, but if it puts food on the table, then a temporary career change meets the objective.

Helping Others Fight Hunger

If you are lucky enough not to be hungry, if you still get a steady paycheck, then the best thing you can do is to donate money to your local food bank. Donating canned goods is fine, but the food banks need money even more.

If you know a friend or family member who is going through a rough patch, help them out. Make them dinner. Invite them over for a meal. Take them shopping at Sam’s Club or Costco and buy them staples like a 20-pound bag of rice, 25-pound bag of flour, a sack of potatoes, and four-dozen eggs. Give them some items from your prepper pantry. These may be small, simple steps to you, but they may make all the difference in the world to that other person.