Coronavirus impact on food insecurity in Kent

By Sylvia Lorson

Since the beginning of quarantine, the amount of food insecure families has fluctuated.

Feeding America reports show 12.5% of people in Portage County were food insecure in 2018. Feeding America has also stated that because of the pandemic, the amount of the nation’s food-insecure people has increased from 37 million people to 54 million. 

In The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity from Feeding America it says, “we have produced estimates of the potential impacts of COVID-19 on food insecurity for counties, congressional districts, food bank service areas, and states. To do so, we have used the same assumption for the change in the annual poverty rate (+4.8%/+5.0%) for all geographies.”

This would mean that, because of the pandemic, Portage County’s food insecurity rate could possibly go from 12.5% to about 17.3-17.5%.

Data from Feeding America

Kent Social Services food coordinator Bill Bowen described how the amount of food they regularly serve to those in need has changed over these past few months.

Bill Bowen. Taken by Bill Bowen.

“Before this all started, we were serving 30-40 meals a day inside.” Bowen said. “Since then we jumped to about 75 meals.”

With many people unemployed and relief funds from the government being limited to that one stimulus check, many families that may have never experienced food insecurity began to understand it more.  

“At the beginning of the month we see a lot more people and at the end of the month we see more people,” Bowen said. He said that a lot of the reasoning for this is government assistance.

Bill Bowen

The way food banks like Kent Social Services operate completely changed when quarantine began in March. 

Jeremy Pethtel at Kent Social Services on September 22, 2020. Photographed by Sylvia Lorson

What used to be a nice gathering place for food-insecure families- where they could sit down, eat, and talk with other people- had to switch to deliveries. After a while, they were able to do pick-ups.

Jeremy Pethtel, a volunteer at Kent Social Services, said that program manager Marquice Seward handled the situation really well when quarantine began.

“When I got here, Marquice pretty much had a plan for what was going to happen.” Pethel said.

Seward had different feelings about that first week of quarantine. She said, “We were nervous. As far as just not knowing what that would look like for us…because we work with volunteers. And we wouldn’t be able to do this without the volunteers.”

Marquice Seward at Kent Social Services on September 22, 2020. Photographed by Sylvia Lorson

Seward said, “So we were nervous in the sense that we wouldn’t have enough people. We didn’t know what our numbers were going to look like…are we going to be able to serve families that we’ve never served before? Or just making sure we have enough food coming in as well as what we have going out.”

KSS receives donations from local businesses such as Panera. With these places being closed at the beginning of quarantine the food bank felt the setback.

“So, what we’re getting from restaurants, is about half of what we were getting before.” Bowen said. “And that makes sense, simply because the restaurants have shut down, or they’re not doing the same amount of business so they have left less leftovers.”

KSS has seen an outpouring of support from the community itself during these unprecedented times. 

“On the flip side of it,” Bowen said. “We’re seeing a lot more people just stopping by with a bag full of groceries and saying, ‘Here, we were at the grocery store and bought some canned goods for you.’”

Along with the donations they receive from community members and businesses, KSS also had some assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

What the staff has been missing, Seward said, was being able to serve their clients inside and interacting with them in that space.

“I think not just for our staff and volunteers, but for clients as well, not being able to come into our building [is difficult],” Seward said. “We would have folks that would come in from the time we opened to the time we closed. And they miss that…we miss seeing our clients.”

Kent Social Services can be found at 1066 S Water St, Kent, OH. They can be reached at (330)-673-6963.

Marquice Seward