Even before COVID-19 hit, too many Detroiters were unsure where their next meal was coming from. The 2019 Detroit Food Metrics report found that in 39 percent of Detroit households someone experienced food insecurity. Then the pandemic arrived and revealed the cracks in every social structure designed to keep people healthy and well.
The devastating effects of COVID-19 on the city of Detroit have been particularly harsh. An analysis done by Feeding America in October found that the rate of food insecurity for individuals in Michigan’s 13th congressional district, which includes roughly half of the city of Detroit, is going up by 6 more percentage points. The projected rate is the highest of any U.S. congressional district. And the situation is almost as bad in the rest of Detroit.
The numbers are staggering. To put them in more human terms, think of your family and your immediate next-door neighbors. In Detroit, one of those three households is statistically likely to be experiencing trouble getting enough food. People you may know, through no fault of their own, are staring into empty cupboards and wondering how they are going to feed their children, or weighing whether to buy food or instead pay for medicine, their rent, or utilities. In one of the richest countries on Earth, no one should be facing these wrenching decisions, especially in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis.
We need real policy solutions that focus on the human toll of the virus. Solutions must put the needs of real people at the center, focusing on small businesses, families and others who are shouldering much of the burden of managing this pandemic.
All over the city, in big ways and small, Detroiters are responding to the dire situation all around them and stepping up to help their community. As important as these efforts are, they must be backed up with a policy response focusing on human beings, not corporations.
That is exactly what Detroiters are doing to meet this crisis— focusing on caring for neighbors in need. The group Make Food Not Waste organized grab-and-go Thanksgiving meals for 5,000 people. Oakland Avenue Urban Farms has been distributing produce boxes, while Eastern Market Corp. has distributed staple food to help get people through the winter. The lauded restaurant Saffron De Twah has pivoted to serving meals to the community at no charge. A coalition of community groups in Highland Park is mobilizing to provide food, water and solar power to residents in the event of another extended shutdown.
Detroit Food Policy Council has been honored to help fund these efforts and more through a grant from the State of Michigan. The state designated these funds to make a real difference in communities of color working to respond to the COVID-19 devastation that has disproportionally hit our city. It’s a significant boost to these organizations that feel a responsibility to care for their community, often with little or no compensation.
These funds, like much of the relief legislation that was passed at the beginning of the pandemic, run out at the end of the year. As case counts rise, we know the virus itself is not at all over, nor is the economic crisis that came in its wake. Congress must pass meaningful relief and real reform, so that Detroiters and others can survive the current crisis and be more resilient to the next one. We can come through this crisis stronger than ever, if we listen to the voice of the people.