In a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed a decade of progress in the fight to end hunger in Kentucky, according to data from the group Feeding America.
Today, Gov. Andy Beshear signs a proclamation declaring September Hunger Action Month.
Michael Halligan, CEO of God's Pantry Food Bank, which serves Central and Eastern Kentucky, said his organization saw a spike in need alongside the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in the area, when furloughs and layoffs began.
"Here in eastern Kentucky, we saw as much as a 35% increase in several counties across our service area," Halligan said. "We had agencies that reported on a given day serving three times as many people as they would normally serve. Since the middle of March, we've seen about a 20% increase in the amount of food that we have distributed to those who are food insecure."
Kentucky has the eighth highest rate in the nation of food-insecure residents. More than 600,000 people don't know where they will find their next meal, including one in every five kids.
Halligan added before the pandemic, an estimated 37 million people across the U.S. were food insecure. The coronavirus recession has swelled that number to 54 million.
"If the economic crisis from COVID-19 is similar to what we saw in 2008, then we would expect it to take up to a decade to return to normal levels prior to COVID-19," Halligan said.
Halligan encourages struggling families, especially those who may have never had to rely on a food bank to utilize available resources.
"For those who need assistance, if they go to our website and they click on 'help', they can click on the county that they live in and there will be information about the agencies that are available," Halligan said.
Since last summer, Feeding Kentucky's network of food banks has distributed 79 million meals to families in the region.