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OC Food Banks Awarded Federal Grant Amid Increasing Unemployment

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved an additional $3 million increase in funding to Orange County’s Second Harvest Food Bank and Community Action Partnership on Oct. 20, upholding the Emergency Food Distribution Services agreement between food banks and Social Services through the end of November.

This accompanies an original $3 million increase allocated to the county’s two largest food banks under the federally funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in May, bringing the cumulative grant total to $6 million.

The 3-2 decision, spearheaded by Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner to provide more emergency funding, comes at a time when food banks and food pantries in Orange County are struggling to keep up with demands as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact unemployment rates.

With a reported 9% unemployment rate within the county, compared to an estimated 2.5% rate at the same time last year, food demand is increasingly high. Fundraising initiatives alone have been rendered insufficient to meet the needs of food-insecure areas.

“Residents that started to file for unemployment in March, and in April, those actually term out in November and December,” Second Harvest Food Bank CEO Harald Herrmann said to the Voice of OC.

Aside from private donations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families program has provided federal aid to food banks in the form of over 110 million boxes of food nationwide. However, according to President of Costa Mesa’s nonprofit Power of One Foundation Andre Roberson, this aid has gradually decreased since the program’s inception at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Phase 2 and Phase 1 provided a lot more options and food variations for families versus now,” Roberson said to the Voice of OC. “There’s also a lesser amount of boxes that comes on a pallet.”

The USDA has announced plans to extend a fourth phase of Farmers to Families through Dec. 31, coming as a relief to food banks who had expected a third and final phase to end Oct. 31.

Orange County’s nonprofit food banks are continuing to accept monetary donations throughout the ongoing pandemic, supplying over 500 organizations in areas hardest hit by food insecurity.

“The pandemic has created a greater need for food assistance than ever before,” Second Harvest said via their Instagram account. “A food cliff is looming.”

Ariana Keshishian is a City News Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at ankeshis@uci.edu.