Feeding America Estimates at Least 60 Million People Turned to Charitable Food Assistance in 2020

Total Number of People Seeking Help Increased by 50% From 2019

September 1, 2021

Feeding America announced today new analysis that estimates at least 60 million people turned to food banks, food pantries, and other private food assistance programs in 2020 in the midst of the health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This Charitable Food Assistance Participation estimate is based on findings from the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization within the charitable food sector, is comprised of a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs providing food assistance to all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico.

As the pandemic created a health and economic crisis, more people found themselves turning to the charitable food sector for help. At the onset of the pandemic, Feeding America began a network survey to assess areas of opportunity and focus of food bank operations. For the first 12 months of the pandemic, food banks reported an average increase of 55% in demand for food assistance and that for many people it was their first time turning to them for help.

“Last year, the hunger crisis that emerged from the pandemic impacted every community across the country. Every food bank in the nationwide Feeding America network responded to the crisis,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “The Feeding America network along with other charitable food organizations should be proud of the work we did together to help millions of families facing hunger. Still, we know there is more that needs to be done. Every county and demographic group in this country struggles with food insecurity. Certain urban centers and rural communities face particular challenges, and the data over many years show that communities of color are inordinately impacted by food insecurity no matter where they live. That is why we are accelerating our efforts to address disparities and advance solutions for an America where no one is hungry.”

As part of the charitable food sector, the Feeding America network of food banks distributed more than six billion meals in 2020, an increase of 44% from the prior year. While distributing a record number of meals, food banks and pantries had to shift operations to maintain social distancing, and keep staff, volunteers and people receiving assistance safe from the coronavirus. In addition, the National Guard was deployed to food banks to help with warehouse operations and distributions.

“While we continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic today, we know that the efforts of the anti-hunger community will be needed for many months and years to come,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “We are grateful to the generous donors, supporters and partners who volunteered, donated, and advocated for support and because of them, I know that we can continue to be there for the millions of our neighbors facing hunger in America.”

While there are measures for food insecurity that look at how many people lacked access to adequate, nutritious food because of limited financial resources within a certain time period, the Charitable Food Assistance Participation estimate quantifies the number of people who received food from the charitable food sector one or more times during a given time period.

Babineaux-Fontenot continued, “In 2020, we saw incredible cooperation and coordination between the public and private sector to address the pandemic-caused food insecurity crisis. This includes bipartisan support in Congress to strengthen federal nutrition programs and food bank assistance. We are hopeful that all of these efforts worked and will have stabilized food insecurity rates during this time of increased need, although we know many of these interventions are only temporary. There were tens of millions of people who needed help before the pandemic, and there are still tens of millions of people who need our help today. Now is the time to work together to end hunger in America. We continue to make progress through bipartisan legislation and work with the US Department of Agriculture, notably with the update to the Thrifty Food Plan which will provide additional support for families participating in federal nutrition programs, but the work must continue. We can take the lessons learned from this experience to create a new playbook together so that the number of people in our country needing food assistance is zero.”

To learn more about the Charitable Food Assistance Participation estimate, visit https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/charitable-food-access.


Please contact one of our media representatives or call 800-771-2303

About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of more than 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs, we helped provide 5.3 billion meals to tens of millions of people in need last year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; brings attention to the social and systemic barriers that contribute to food insecurity in our nation; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on X.com.