The economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic is driving up food insecurity across America.

"What we've seen, has been, unfortunately, a steady level of greatly, significantly increased need, since the pandemic started," said Katie Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer of Feeding America.

Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief organization, says more than 54 million people in the country could soon face food insecurity. That is 17 million more than before the coronavirus outbreak. The non-profit has seen a 60 percent increase in food assistance needs since March.

"About 40 percent of the people who are showing up for food distributions have never before had to rely on charitable food assistance," Fitzgerald told CNN.

"People are really trying to figure out how they can access help with feeding themselves and their family," she added. "It is a basic need that every human being has to be able to know when you wake up in the morning that you're going to be able to eat."

This food-access crisis is threatening to exacerbate the already glaring health disparities for vulnerable people including low-income families, children, and older adults.

Here is how you can get help if you are facing food insecurity today.

USDA

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs a National Hunger Hotline to connect people to local food resources such as meal sites, food banks, and other social services. You can reach them by calling their toll-free number 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (Spanish) to speak with a representative. You can also text 97779 with a question that contains a keyword such as "food" or "meals," and the automated response will provide resources located near your address or zip code.

The USDA also operates an interactive map called Meals for Kids Site Finder to help children and parents easily find meal sites near them. The web-based application allows users to enter an address, city, state, or zip code to find up to 50 nearby locations along with hours of operation.

Non-profits with food distribution initiatives

Feeding America has a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in every county in the United States including Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. In light of the pandemic, the non-profit and its affiliates have various low or no-contact options available in many areas. Those include seniors-only hours, drive-through pantries, and expanded home delivery services. Type in your zip code or state in the food bank finder to find a location near you.

FoodFinder is a mobile and web app that helps food-insecure children and their families find free food assistance programs near their homes.

Foodpantries.org has a national database of pantries and non-profit subsidized grocery resources.

The Little Free Pantry movement is a grassroots initiative. Community members stock little pantries with boxed goods, canned goods, and other food to be used by passersby in need. This organization is standing ready across the US, giving 24-hour neighborhood access to food and other necessities. Use their interactive map to find locations.

Meals on Wheels helps individuals with diminished mobility who are generally age 60 and older, although age requirements vary. You can find a provider here by typing in your zip code.

The Salvation Army operates both a food pantry and various in-person and mobile meal programs across the country. Click here, type in your zip code, and select emergency services to determine what they can provide in your area.

WhyHunger has launched a crowd-sourced map to connect individuals with free meal sites in the US and some communities worldwide.

Additional federal food assistance resources

Several federal programs are available to help make ends meet during these difficult times. State and federal programs have expanded to help even more people during the pandemic.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program that provides food-purchasing assistance for low-income and no-income people. You can find out if you are eligible here. You can also contact your local food bank here to get help with your application.

WIC (Women and Infant Children) programs provide healthy, supplemental food to low-income people who are pregnant and have children ages 5 and under. Find out if you're eligible and contact your state WIC agency to apply.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 provided for the use of a Coronavirus Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). The program provides funding for families that need emergency food during the pandemic who already received free or reduced-cost lunches at school. More information about participating states can be found by clicking here.

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