OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Financial hardships continue for people across the nation. Many are still struggling to put food on the table.
To bring this crisis to the forefront, a pillar of Omaha’s skyline is lit up orange to raise awareness for food insecure families.
The WoodmenLife Tower is kicking off Hunger Action Month, a month where people across the U.S. stand in solidarity to fight hunger.
According to Food Bank for the Heartland CEO and President Brian Barks, the fight is real.
"COVID-19 has not only exposed the hunger issues we have in our community and our country, it's made it worse,” Barks said.
The number of families Food Bank for the Heartland now serves would have been unimaginable before this pandemic hit, according to Barks.
"About four in ten people seeking food assistance are doing so for the very first time,” Barks said. “We saw food insecurity numbers in our area that we serve at the food bank jump from 207,000 to 296,000."
Barks told KMTV their monthly budget went from $80,000 a month, to $600,000 in a matter of days.
“The virus is going to come and go, but the economic fallout that's left behind is going to be with us for years to come,” Barks said.
Marisa Carlson, the Director of Benson Baptist Church food pantry, says they've seen a small spike in the number of families they serve. They were prepared for more.
“We’ve had a lot of people come through that say 'I’ve never been to a food pantry before, this is the first time I’ve ever had anything happen like this,'” Carlson said.
Now, six months into a pandemic, Barks says there is no end in sight, adding they will continue to meet the needs of food insecure families.
“We’ve had unimaginable support from the community to allow us to do what we are doing,” Barks said. “Without it, I cannot imagine the number of folks that would go hungry."
Barks says Food Bank for the Heartland does get help from federal programs to stock shelves.
He says the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program brings in about 500,000 to 600,000 pounds of food per month.
An a more national level, Feeding America estimates the number of food insecure individuals has risen from 37 million to 54 million due to COVID-19.