A year after the food pantry at Fort Bragg’s Y.M.C.A. was opened, pandemic pressures made it one of the most important resources on the base.
In 2020 the food pantry saw a 40 percent increase in requests for groceries, the New York Times reports. Meanwhile, AmericaServes, a network that helps military families, received more service requests than any other time in the organization’s history.
Around the country, tens of thousands of spouses of active-duty troops have lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, and their demographic is often the least likely to be able to find new ones. Military families also often have more children than the national average, but free or reduced meal programs at school have been discontinued as the pandemic has prompted school closures.
“A lot of kids who were getting breakfast and lunch at school no longer are,” said Michelle Baumgarten, the associate executive director of the Armed Services Y.M.C.A. at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. “Families were going from two incomes to one income is the common thread.”
According to Feed America, a recent survey of military households found that 90,000 people serving in the United States military were worried about having enough food to feed themselves and their families.
Among the factors that contribute to food insecurity among service members and their families, Feed America lists the following:
- Low salaries for enlisted service members
- High rates of unemployment for military spouses due to the transitory nature of the military
- High cost of living near many military bases
- High costs of childcare
- Stigmas associated with seeking assistance
The combination of rising unemployment and grocery prices has hit some families hard. As the Washington Post reports, 27 percent of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have struggled to provide food for their families.
A study from Cambridge University found that more than 25% of veterans reported food insecurity in the past calendar year with 12% reporting “very low food insecurity.” The study also found that veterans experiencing food insecurity were more likely to be younger, not married or partnered, living in houses with children, have lower incomes, and are more likely to engage in tobacco use and more frequent binge drinking.
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