Charitable Food Assistance Participation

graphic showing that in 2021, 53 million people received food assistance from the charitable food sector

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, one of the immediate effects was a sudden increase in awareness about food hardship in the United States. Food insecurity has long been a domestic issue, but it swiftly became more visible when the public health emergency caused communities to close, unemployment to soar, and, for many, mounting anxiety about paying for and accessing enough food to meet their family’s needs. To help meet the need, the charitable food sector ramped up efforts in local communities across the country. Images of long lines of cars stretching from food distribution sites became emblematic of the acute nature of the crisis in the first year of the pandemic. 

While the long lines outside of food banks and food pantries may not have been as noticeable in the second year of the pandemic, Feeding America estimates that 53 million people received food assistance from the charitable sector in 2021. This estimate is lower than it was for 2020, when more than 60 million people were served by the charitable food system, but still reflects a 33% increase over the 40 million individuals who received charitable food assistance in 2019 before the pandemic began.


Read the latest brief: Charitable Food Assistance Participation in 2021

Go here to learn more about how we calculated charitable food assistance participation.



Charitable Food Assistance Participation in 2020