Opinion: Hunger crisis brings compassion

June 11, 2019 — View of Atlanta skyline from south of the city. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

June 11, 2019 — View of Atlanta skyline from south of the city. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

We are facing the greatest domestic hunger crisis in nearly a century. We should celebrate and give thanks for the way our community has responded and continues to respond with unprecedented generosity. Can we practice this same compassion even when the crisis recedes?

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. At the time, there were 1,000 known confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., and only 17 in Georgia. Fewer than 30 Americans had died.

In the weeks that followed, schools closed. Air travel stopped. The economy screeched to a halt, leading to mass layoffs. As job losses mounted, families who had been self-sufficient now found themselves waiting in long lines at drive-thru food giveaways. We experienced an unprecedented rise in food insecurity. Nearly one million of our north Georgia neighbors are struggling to afford enough food.

Kyle Waide

Credit: 122318 biz newsmakers

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Credit: 122318 biz newsmakers

Facing this crisis, our community has responded generously and courageously. I am grateful for the millions of dollars donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and other feeding programs.

I am grateful for the extraordinary stimulus resources – food and funding – provided by our federal government to support our community.

I am grateful to Gov. Kemp for deploying the Georgia National Guard to support food relief efforts at food banks across the state.

I am grateful for the extraordinary work of federal, state and local employees who adapted programs to ensure people who needed food assistance could access it safely.

I am grateful for city and county leaders, in Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Fulton, in Atlanta, East Point, Dunwoody, South Fulton and many more, for organizing and leading food relief efforts to support their residents.

I am grateful for Georgia’s farmers and food distributors, who are donating vast amounts of food to help struggling families, even when they struggle themselves.

I am grateful for the countless volunteers who risk their own safety to pack food boxes, load food into cars, and extend a caring (but socially distant) hand to their neighbors, who needed those gestures of love and compassion no less than they needed food.

I am grateful for this caring community and all that you’ve done to serve our most vulnerable during this crisis. Thanks to you, the Food Bank has provided nearly 70 million meals since March 11.

Our response to this crisis has shown our community at its best. We will need to continue to be our best in the months to come. As the virus surges, food insecurity grows. As fall turns to winter and to spring, even more of our neighbors will face hunger.

I am hopeful that our community will continue to respond generously. I am hopeful that Congress will authorize additional stimulus funding to support struggling families and businesses. I am hopeful that state and local leaders will find resources and energy to sustain their efforts. I am hopeful that farmers and distributors will continue sharing our nation’s food supply. I am hopeful we can all stay healthy enough to continue feeding one another, for as long as it takes to outlast this crisis.

And when, inevitably, the pandemic fades, what then? Life will return to normal. Many of the families we are serving today will return to work, regain their footing and begin a slow climb out of financial distress.

For too many, however, the end of the pandemic will change very little. Several hundred thousand of our neighbors will continue to face food insecurity, including two to three hundred thousand children. They will look largely the same as they did before the crisis. They will live in the same places, face the same challenges, and continue waiting in long lines for the food they need to survive.

As a community, we will face a question. As the crisis fades, can our crisis response continue? Will we see that the widespread suffering that stirred our compassion continues to be widespread? Will we be outraged, as we are today, that in the world’s richest country, so many of our neighbors need help getting food? Will we – donors and volunteers, businesses and nonprofits, government leaders, farmers and philanthropists – be inspired to give and to serve, so that all of our neighbors have the food they need?

This Thanksgiving, I am beyond grateful for the compassion our community has shown during this crisis. I am hopeful that we will sustain our generosity in the coming months, as the crisis deepens again. And I am prayerful that among the many things we learn from this crisis, we will learn that the food crisis has been with us all along, and that together we can end it.

Kyle Waide is president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.