Food banks expect spike in demand as meals for kids shift back to school-delivered models

Story first appeared in Crain’s Detroit Business

When school is back in session, free lunches will stop for some at-risk children. Children too young to attend school and the newly vulnerable peers of students enrolled in free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch programs will no longer be eligible to receive food through a federally funded program that has helped keep them fed since March.

A federal waiver that took effect after schools closed to provide free food for all children through food boxes distributed by emergency providers at drive-up sites around the region ends Aug. 31 or the first day of school, whichever is earlier. Schools will shift back to the regular school-year programs that provide food only for enrolled students.

And that will leave outstanding need for emergency food providers to fill without the ability to seek reimbursement. The gaps left by resuming the regular school meal programs represent the fourth wave of need to come at food providers since the pandemic began. Waves of students and families, senior citizens and contract, service industry and small business employees now facing food insecurity have been coming to food pickup sites since spring, providers said.

Lines at those sites are expected to grow even more with the expiration or reduction of federal assistance that has enabled many food-insecure families and individuals to fill gaps.

On the supply side, the amount of food provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to states is set to drop back down to prepandemic and pre-trade-mitigation levels by year’s end, drastically reducing the amount of free food available for emergency assistance.”For us, what that adds up to is the potential to be overrun with families that just don’t know what to do,” said Gleaners President and CEO Gerry Brisson.He and other emergency food providers are assuming a minimum increase of 15 percent to start in demand for food assistance, something that could add up to over 1 million pounds of food per month just for Gleaners The increased demand from all fronts is expected to present financial and operational challenges, food providers said.

“We are at a point now where if no action is taken, there is definitely trouble coming by October,” Brisson said.