Hunger is largely an invisible problem. Unless you experience hunger yourself, or volunteer at a food pantry or meal site and see the long lines of people seeking help, it’s hidden from view.
To bring the problem to light, the Food Bank annually produces the Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island. In 2023, we showed that nearly 3 in 10 households were food insecure and at-risk of hunger because they could not afford adequate food. Families with children and communities of color demonstrated even higher rates of food insecurity.
Low-income households have been burdened by high food and rent costs and the loss of critical resources that they relied on during the pandemic. Emergency SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits ended in March 2023 and free school meals for all students ended in June 2022.
Now, over 80,000 people receive food assistance each month through the Food Bank’s statewide network of 143 partner organizations. In response to the growing need, the Rhode Island General Assembly allocated $3 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to the Food Bank, which made it possible for us to increase food distribution from 12 million (pre-pandemic) to 18 million pounds of food per year.
We are very grateful for this needed funding, but these one-time ARPA funds will be fully expended by June 2024.
When we ensure that no one goes hungry, the entire community benefits. Children learn better, senior adults live healthier lives, and workers are more productive. We bolster our long-term investments in education, healthcare, and workforce development by giving everyone access to nutritious food.
As the legislative session gets underway, it’s time to advocate for higher SNAP benefits, free school meals for all students, and an increase in annual state funding for the Food Bank.
On January 30, supporters of the Food Bank will gather at the State House for Food Insecurity Awareness Day. We will remind our elected leaders that thousands of Rhode Island households remain on the brink of hunger and in need of food assistance.
You are invited to join us at the State House. Help us build the public will to end hunger in Rhode Island.
Andrew Schiff, CEO, Rhode Island Community Food Bank
This op-ed was originally published in the Providence Journal on January 27, 2024