One in six Amerians likely struggled to find a steady source of food this year, according to a study done by National Geographic. That’s over 16% of the entire population, and over 50 million people.
These numbers reflect a sharp increase in comparison to 2019 figures, with 15.2 million more people potentially driven into hunger in 2020.
Researchers at National Geographic say the rising numbers in food insecurity are most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the domino effect of job loss and financial insecurity the virus has caused around the globe.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief network, had reported the lowest levels of food insecurity since the Great Recession of 2008. Now, numbers are creeping back up to recession-era levels.
In Dane County specifically, Feeding America reports a food insecurity rate of 10.4%, up from 7.4% in 2018.
On Dec. 23, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced an extension of the county’s Emergency Food Pandemic Response Program to July 2021.
Looking to put a dent in that 10.4% is Girl Scouts of America troop 2677, based in Fitchburg. Earlier this month, the troop built a free miniature pantry on the 400 block of Cottage Grove Road.
“When COVID hit, we saw how businesses were shutting down and people were losing their jobs,” said Troop Leader Jessa Posselt. “The troop decided to build a free pantry to help those experiencing a lack of food security.”
Little Free Pantry is a nation-wide movement encouraging neighbors and communities to help end localized food insecurity. The pantries are about the size of a large birdhouse, and are stuffed with various food and personal care items.
Community members can take food from the pantry at no cost. Those who don’t need food from the pantry, but do have food to spare, are encouraged to stock the pantry with extra items.
The girl scout troop carried out each step of the pantry installation process all on their own, including the woodworking, drilling, and sawing.
Posselt said that while the girl scouts will be taking turns making sure the pantry is full on a rotating basis, community members are welcomed to help the troop in keeping the pantry stocked.
“For COVID safety, we encourage anyone taking items from the pantry to wash hands thoroughly before preparing and eating the food,” Posselt advised.
In addition to adding food items to the pantry, troop 2677 is also asking community members to spread the word.
“Hopefully the more people who know about the free pantry will help keep it stocked, or be motivated to install their own,” said Katie Conrad, whose daughter is a girl scout with the troop.
While the girl scouts did earn a bronze badge for their work on the pantry, Posselt said it’s less about the accolades and more about the opportunity to fill a need in the community.
“The girls hope that their pantry will bless those in need during these uncertain times,” said Posselt.
To learn more about where to find a Free Little Pantry, or info on installing your own, maps and informational materials can be found at www.littlefreepantry.org.