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In-depth: How the pandemic caused more food insecurity in the Tampa Bay area

1 million people in Tampa Bay are food insecure
food banks fresh food
Posted at 6:00 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 18:00:12-04

DADE CITY, Fla. — It’s been a year since the pandemic began and it’s been tough for thousands of people in the Tampa Bay area just to get by, especially when it comes to putting food on the table.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with people who had to reach out for help and one local organization that has been providing the food that’s desperately needed in our communities.

Since the pandemic began a year ago, it’s changed all of our lives. Many people found themselves out of a job, forcing families in the Bay Area to make do with less.

The pandemic highlighted the topic of food insecurity in the area. People like Robert and Joan Gerhard have had to wait in long lines in their car to get a box of food.

“We are not alone in this. Why do you think everybody is here?” said Joan Gerhard.

Once a week for the past four months, they’ve turned to a local food pantry subsidizing food they can’t afford.

"We used to go to the grocery store and spend a paycheck. Now we go to the grocery store and maybe spend three quarters instead of the whole thing,” said Robert Gerhard.

According to Feeding Tampa Bay, before the pandemic, about 650,000 people in the Tampa Bay area were food insecure. Now, that number stands at 1 million.

“This was supposed to be something that we did for a few months and as we all know, the pandemic has now taken a year,” said Shannon Hannon Oliviero from Feeding Tampa Bay.

They started these out-door pantries back in April and serve nine cities in the Tampa Bay area five days a week with the help of thousands of volunteers. So far, they’ve provided 1.1 million meals through their mega pantry distribution sites.

Though some people eventually get back on their feet, Feeding Tampa Bay says, there’s always someone else in need.

“Those people are then replaced by somebody who has now lost their job or needs us a little more than when the pandemic first started,” said Kris Barra from Feeding Tampa Bay.

As for Robert and Joan, they’re just happy to have help in the community, especially when it’s needed the most.

“As long as they keep this pantry going, it helps out because if we get things that we can’t use, we give it to our neighbors and they do appreciate it,” said Joan Gerhard.

One day the virus will be gone and the pandemic will be over, but Feeding Tampa Bay says they have no plans to stop food distribution through mega pantries any time soon.

“The need and access to healthy food is something we’re really committed to,” said Hannon Oliviero.

To find the nearest mega food pantry near you, click here.