Amid Pandemic and Slow-Moving Relief Legislation, Theft of Food and Hygiene Items Skyrockets

Amid Pandemic and Slow-Moving Relief Legislation, Theft of Food and Hygiene Items Skyrockets
Ohio Association of Food Banks

The Washington Post has reported that retailers, police departments and loss prevention researchers are seeing a nationwide spike in theft of food and hygiene products — data that starkly illustrates the ever-increasing need for federal relief.

The Post reports that shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began — at much higher levels than in past economic crises — but what’s distinctive about this trend is the fact that staples such as bread, pasta and baby formula are what’s being taken.

Locally, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank has served more than 400,000 families this year, more than 100,000 than it served in 2019.

"One in four Northeast Ohioans have been served by the food bank or one of our partner agencies over the last year," Greater Cleveland Food Bank CEO Kristin Warzocha said. "The need is growing. That's a real concern."

“It’s become much harder during the pandemic,” one Washington, D.C. grocery store operator told the Post. “People will say, ‘I was just hungry.’ And then what do you do?”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 54 million Americans will struggle with hunger this year — a 45% increase from 2019.

While several federal food programs provided billions of dollars in fresh produce, dairy and meat to food banks nationwide, those programs are set to expire at the end of the year — just weeks away.

The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is one of the largest federal efforts, but it is already running out of money in some states, according to the Post.

A $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief deal has been proposed to Congress, however little progress has been made on the legislation as folks on both side of the aisle continue to bicker about details.

“We’re supposed to be the greatest, richest country in the world, and we don’t have safety nets for when something like this happens?” Danielle Nierenberg, president and founder of food equity and sustainability nonprofit Food Tank, told the Post.

“People are being forced to steal when they shouldn’t have to, and that’s a great American tragedy.”
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