A recent study from Duke University and WhyHunger finds that 82 percent of hunger relief organizations in the United States served more first time clients during the COVID-19 pandemic than during previous years. While unprecedented demand revealed faults in the food system, researchers also identify opportunities to develop more resilient hunger relief programs.

According to Feeding America, 45 million people experienced food insecurity in 2020—up from 35 million in 2019. The organization finds that food banks, which bore some of the greatest pressure, served 55 percent more people nationwide in March 2021 than before the pandemic.

To understand the impacts of greater demand on food banks, frontline, and advocacy organizations, the anti-hunger nonprofit WhyHunger conducted a survey in collaboration with Duke University’s World Food Policy Center, The study analyzed the needs of emergency food organizations, barriers to providing consistent food access, and how relief programs are shifting their priorities. The study also recommends policies that support systemic change to reduce food insecurity.

Preliminary results from the study show a 79 percent increase in demand for existing food aid services during COVID-19. Despite this demand, 54 percent of organizations were forced to suspend programming like community meals and volunteer services. Organizations also had to contend with new processes, including food delivery, contactless pickup, and virtual communication.

Read the full article about hunger relief by Sara Bond at Food Tank.