It would be an understatement to say that COVID-19 has impacted us all. Between asynchronous classes and the loss of the Husker football season, life hardly seems normal to any of us.
But for some members of our community, the pandemic has caused more than just mask tan lines and technical difficulties on Zoom.
More than 37 million people faced food insecurity in the United States before the pandemic, the lowest rate reached since the “great recession,” but the COVID-19 crisis threatens to undo that progress. Seventeen percent of Nebraskans will be food insecure by the end of the year, an increase of approximately 5% since 2019.
We must be aware of food insecurity within our communities, especially during these trying times. I know that there isn’t a single solution, and most of us can’t donate thousands of dollars to local food banks, but ignorance can’t be an option.
The economic impact of the pandemic has left many families hurting and increased the number of food-insecure individuals. Individuals who are food-insecure are more likely to have poorer health and underlying conditions, such as diabetes, that make them more vulnerable to severe complications with COVID-19 because their body’s ability to fight infection is compromised.
Social distancing measures have also made access to food more difficult for seniors, as they have severely limited means of transportation and mobility in terms of obtaining food.
To rectify this, Nebraska and other states enacted emergency expansions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which increased assistance and eased some eligibility requirements. But the United States Department of Agriculture wants states to roll back these measures within the next month.
If these measures are rolled back too soon, the system won’t be able to adequately support families who face long-term economic uncertainty, especially those living in COVID-19 hotspots.
It can be easy to place the blame for things such as food insecurity on broken systems and bureaucratic failures. Sometimes, it's hard to find a reason to care too much about it. Why dwell on an issue we as individuals can hardly make an impact on?
Because we can.
We can start by exercising our right to vote and electing local and national officials who will work to support and appropriately run programs like SNAP, which allows our farmers, the food industry and charitable food services to ensure every American has access to a secure food source.
While I personally believe that government intervention does more harm than good, there has yet to be a country that has successfully improved nutrition and agriculture without government policies. If government policies — which are intended to be a reflection of citizens’ commitments — are necessary to solving food insecurity during this crisis, it means our community is committed to helping one another. And for that, I’ll be okay with the government intervening.
Beyond hitting the polls, volunteering and donating to charitable food services like food banks are easy ways to make an impact. Food Bank of Lincoln is accepting both monetary donations and volunteers ages 18-59 to help them distribute food to those in need in our community. You can find more information and their COVID-19 policy here.
On campus, Husker Pantry helps students facing food insecurity and is currently providing curbside pickup for those in need. Their volunteer applications from the spring semester will open this fall.
So the next time you grumble about having to do laundry because you’re out of masks, be aware that others may be facing much larger struggles. And then sign up to volunteer for an hour after your classes at a local food bank or research the stance of candidates running for election this November.
Chloe Herbert is a freshman undecided major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.