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COVID-19 Pandemic Driving Increased Food Insecurity In Southwestern Pennsylvania

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Volunteers pass out boxes of food to vehicles during a distribution event near PPG Paints Arena.

Food insecurity has increased by more than 40 percent in southwestern Pennsylvania, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, according to one new estimate.

More than 360,000 people in the region are “food insecure,” according to a report released last week from anti-hunger organization Feeding America. Food insecurity means a household is not able to provide every family member consistent access to nutritious food.

The region’s food insecurity rate is 15.4 percent, a 42 percent increase from the most recent estimates in 2018, according to the research, which factors in economic indicators such as unemployment and poverty rates.

The rate is much higher for children.

Feeding America’s estimate says in 2020, more than 112,000 kids in southwestern Pennsylvania are food insecure, or about 24 percent of children in 11-county surveyed region. It covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Somerset and Washington counties.

Nicole Coulter says missing the meals that her children were provided in school has been hard.

“Them being in school and eating breakfast and lunch at school was also a big help to make sure, you know, we had food for everybody,” she said.

Making sure that she, her husband, and their four children – ages eight, six, five, and 14 months – have enough to eat is sometimes a struggle. She and her husband sometimes skip meals to make sure their children have enough, she said.

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank President and CEO Lisa Scales said her organization is continuing to anticipate high need for its services.

“We attribute that to people no longer having the money from the stimulus bill, and that their unemployment benefits have run out,” she said.

Feeding America is the parent organization of the food bank.

State human service officials say enrollment in public assistance programs has increased since the onset of the pandemic.

The number of people receiving food stamps in Pennsylvania has grown by nearly 130,000 people since February, according to the most recent state statistics, a more than 7 percent increase.

A list of drive-up distributions at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is available here.

To see if you qualify for food stamps or other assistance, visit COMPASS