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Food relief efforts in Washington face uphill battle, as coronavirus leaves many hungry

Emergency food boxes are filled by members of the Oklahoma Air National Guard at the Regional Food Bank Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Oklahoma City.
Sue Ogrocki
/
The Associated Press
Emergency food boxes are filled by members of the Oklahoma Air National Guard at the Regional Food Bank Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Oklahoma City.

The WA Food Fund is facing an uphill battle, as it nears its deadline to raise millions of dollars for food relief. Gov. Jay Inslee launched the effort in early April to raise money to fight hunger caused by the novel coronavirus.

Katie Rains with Washington’s Department of Agriculture says before the coronavirus hit, her agency estimated about 850,000 people relied on food banks to meet their nutritional needs. 

Now, that number has nearly doubled. And it’s growing fast. 

“At this point, based on our preliminary needs assessment for the month of April, we anticipate that number has grown to upwards of 1.6 million individuals who are food insecure or at risk of food insecurity. And we expect that number to grow up to 2 million people in the coming month.”

When WA Food Fund first launched, it was charged with raising $13 million dollars in four weeks. With less than a week to go before that deadline, it has brought in only about $3 million.

And Kiran Ahuja with Philanthropy Northwest, who is leading the effort, says they’re aiming to raise another $11 million now. That’s because food prices and other costs have been higher than anticipated.

“The more and more that I know and crunching those numbers and as those jobless numbers go up, I'm afraid that $11 million will probably not be enough,” Ahuja said.

She says about 5,000 individual donors have stepped up, as well as more than 20 institutions.

The state is expecting several sources of federal aid to kick in come June.

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Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.