Food Pantry Workers Eligible for Vaccine Amid Unprecedented Demand

Volunteers unload boxes of food from a truck for a distribution program run in Queens. The program gives out more than 1,000 boxes of food to families twice a week. (AP Photo/Emily Leshner)

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity has soared as families lost livelihoods and breadwinners.

The crisis is testing soup kitchens and food pantries like never before. Many of these organizations are charities, run by volunteers, and the demand from people who had never before needed food supplies has doubled, tripled, quadrupled as the pandemic and the economic fallout drag on.

“The face of hunger has changed,” Janelle Larghi, director of the Tri-Boro Food Pantry, told CBS 2. “People who used to be coming to the pantry to donate food are in the line for food now.”

New Jersey Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur warned that, like the 2008 Recession, it can take as many as ten years for demand to ease to pre-crisis levels.

In Long Island, demand soared by 63% even as pop-up food distribution sites closed as the pandemic eased in January and February.

For families that struggle with food insecurity, many relied on the school system to guarantee their children had fresh and healthy food five days a week. With schools during the pandemic, New York and New Jersey arranged for food packages to be distributed to local communities for people to anonymously receive.

in New York, food pantry workers and certified volunteers are now eligible for the vaccine, qualifying as essential workers.

“With exploding unemployment and homelessness in New York, the number of food insecure New Yorkers has skyrocketed,” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, said in a statement to Spectrum News. “Without the dedication and commitment of staff and volunteers at New York’s food banks, pantries, and grab-and-go sites, countless New York families would go hungry. Food pantry staff have been risking their health and that of their families to make sure that hungry New Yorkers can feed their families, and it is vital that we immediately prioritize them for the vaccine.”