Food workers are struggling to put food on the table

key takeaways

  • As the pandemic continues, many grocery and agricultural workers across the United States are battling food insecurity.
  • A survey of Kroger employees found that 78 percent of them were food insecure.
  • Food banks and local nonprofits have stepped up to address the shortfalls created by the pandemic.

Grocery store workers don’t always have access to food. More than 8,000 workers at Kroger-owned grocery chain King Sooper are on a 10-day strike in Colorado demanding higher wages, better health care benefits and stricter pandemic safety measures.

As of today, a preliminary agreement has been reached between Kroger and the union. The terms of the agreement have not been announced, and union members will vote on it next week.

The mass strike follows a report commissioned by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) that surveyed more than 10,000 Kroger grocery workers and found 78 percent were food insecure .

“Every day is a struggle, and the constant fear of being fired haunts me. I’m a single dad and I live on my paycheck to make sure my kids eat,” a King Soopers staffer said in the report. “Sometimes I starve myself so my kids can eat, but even that’s not enough.”

As grocery prices and COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many parts of the country, food insecurity remains a reality for many Americans.

The USDA defines food insecurity as “disruption in food intake or dietary patterns due to lack of financial and other resources.” It may also involve “reduced diet quality, variety, or desirability.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity rates improved slightly. In 2011, nearly 15 percent of American households reported being food insecure at some point during the year. That percentage dropped to around 11% in 2018 and 10.5% in 2019.

But the pandemic disrupted progress. A recent New York University study reported that nearly 15 percent of U.S. households (and nearly 18 percent of those with children) reported food insecurity early in the pandemic.

“When you think about people facing hunger, I want you to look in the mirror. People facing hunger look just like you and me,” said Dan Samuels, director of philanthropy at Second Harvest Food Bank in Central Florida. ) said very well. “We’re all prone to this situation in our lives. All it takes is a pandemic, a disaster, a medical bill you didn’t expect.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is a nonprofit that distributes food and basic supplies to more than 500 food banks in the Orlando area, a community with a large number of hotel and restaurant workers whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic, Second Harvest delivered about 150,000 meals to the community. Since then, we’ve doubled,” Samuels said. “We are now serving around 250,000-300,000 meals a day to meet demand.”

While Florida’s hospitality industry is beginning to recover, many families are still struggling to put food on the table.

“Food insecurity isn’t about the definition; it’s about the people it’s affecting,” he said. “At the start of the pandemic, a single mom lost two jobs and had three kids at home, and she had to support herself.”

Dan Samuels

We are all prone to this situation in our lives. All it takes is an epidemic, a disaster, and a medical bill you didn’t expect.

— Dan Samuels

How community leaders can help

Established food banks aren’t the only organizations stepping in to address the growing number of food-insecure Americans. Community leaders across the country are also facing up to the need and doing what they can for their neighbors.

In March 2020, Tomas Ramos founded Oyate Group’s Bronx Rising Initiative with a mission to provide resources to marginalized communities in New York City.

“Before the pandemic, the Bronx was already one of the poorest areas in America. Food insecurity was already a huge problem,” Cyrille Njikeng, managing director of the Oyate Group’s Bronx Rise Initiative, told VigorTip.

According to a Feeding America report, in 2018, approximately 17 percent of people and 23 percent of children living in the Bronx were food insecure. In April 2020, half of the Bronx’s emergency food vendors were closed, compared with a 38% closure rate for the city as a whole.

Oyate Group’s Bronx Rising Initiative stepped in to partner with local environmental nonprofit GrowNYC to bring food to your doorstep.

“Other Bronx residents actually joined us and went out to provide food,” Njikeng said. “The community always needs us before we can do something for our community.”

In Southern California, a grassroots group called Farmworker Caravan has been delivering food and emergency supplies to agricultural workers during the pandemic. The first Farmworker Caravan consisted of two commercial trucks and 90 vehicles full of food and supplies.

“Everyone in America benefits from farm workers,” Darlene Tenes, founder of Farmworker Caravan, told VigorTip. “In California, we produce 50 percent of America’s fruit, nuts and vegetables. We feed the nation in California.”

Farm workers are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. More than 50 percent of farm workers are undocumented immigrants, who are often underpaid and ineligible for SNAP benefits. Long hours also mean farm workers can be hard to reach when grocery stores and food banks are open.

Tenes added that many people live in shared housing, which makes them vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The people who pick the food don’t actually eat it, so they also have their own food insecurity,” Tenes said, adding that the houses weren’t always equipped with kitchens or basic cooking utensils.

The group continues to organize these supply caravans on a monthly basis. Donations are made by local community members and nonprofits.

Culturally Competent Ways to Help

Contact your local food bank if you are able to help. Organizers working directly near you understand the unique needs of your community.

“A lot of times, people give things to homeless people, and they don’t think about what they’re giving,” Tenes said. For example, many homeless people without health or dental insurance may not be able to eat hard granola bars.

It is also important to consider cultural food traditions, she added.

“One particular food drive was with a heavy Oaxaca community. We just gave them a special type of beans, rice and masai, a cornmeal used to make tortillas,” she said. “That’s all we’ve collected for them – these three things – because it’s mostly what they eat.”

Njikeng shares the idea that connecting with local organizations working directly in the community is the best way to help.

“If you’re from another community and you want to help the Bronx, we welcome you to do so. We’d love to work with anyone who has the resources to help make our community better,” Njikeng said. “People who don’t visit the Bronx and spend time in the Bronx won’t understand how deep this issue is, but we’re part of the Bronx. We know resources are needed.”

what does this mean to you

You can find your local food bank by visiting the Feeding America website and searching with your zip code. You can also visit the SNAP website to determine if you are eligible to apply in your state.