LAFAYETTE, Ind, (WLFI) - More local families are struggling to put food on the table because of the economic damage of COVID-19.
"The pandemic is impacting the food needs of this community in profound and various ways," says Wes Tillett, executive director of Lafayette Urban Ministry.
LUM opens its protein food pantry once a week.
"Food insecurity goes back to financial insecurity," Tillett says. "If you don't have the funds to buy the food you need to stay healthy and energized, then you are in need. So the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on people and their financial situation, their job situation."
U.S. unemployment claims last week rose to nearly 900,000, according to the Associated Press.
That's a huge number being felt in Lafayette, says Kier Crites, chief engagement officer for Food Finders Food Bank.
"We have seen an increased number of clients since March," she says. "At that time, we were doing a survey early in the spring, and it said 30% of the people that were shopping with us had never used a food bank before, or a food pantry."
Crites says Food Finders could see a 5% rise in food insecurity rates in its 16-county service area.
"We're seeing clients that had jobs, that lost their jobs," she says. "Like I said, they're having to come and use food assistance when they haven't had to before."
More than 76,000 people in the area already go hungry at least some of the time, including 22,000 children.
"Those are the types of numbers that we're seeing and we're not seeing a decrease yet," Crites says. "We're worried if the economy gets worse with things like that, it's just going to continue."
Agencies worry the problem could worsen as cold weather sets in. That's because low-income families must choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table.
"As we head into this winter season, we're going to see even more need, not just for food but rent and utilities and things like that," Tillett says. "It's going to be a difficult winter."
Food Finders is asking for help from the community to stock their food bank over the winter. Their "Drive Away Hunger" fall food drive starts Friday and continues until Dec. 4.
For more information about the drive and how to get involved, visit the Food Finders website.