The year was 1933, in the depths of the Depression and 15 million Americans were out of work and hungry.
Eighty-seven years later, in the depths of a viral pandemic, twice as many Americans are out of work.
They would be hungry, too, save for a multi-faceted network of food banks, private and corporate donations and government programs.
And don’t forget farmers, whose heart and soul are dedicated to feeding people.
Since the Depression, feeding America has been a national priority. Nearly every section of the farm bills that Congress passes every five years is aimed at providing affordable and nutritious food. From alphabet soup programs such as SNAP and WIC to school lunches — and breakfasts — the aim has been to get food from the farms to the hungry.
Other programs seen by some as a “farm subsidies” are in actuality part of a system aimed a keeping food affordable and plentiful.
Combined, all of these systems, programs and projects have generally accomplished what they set out to do: feed America.
This year, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a one-of-a-kind crisis.
USDA, with funding approved by Congress, set up a national effort to provide food boxes to those in need, supplementing the good works of food banks. The boxes are filled with excess commodities such as cheese and vegetables that would have been sold to restaurants and other foodservices had state governments not shut them down to control the spread of the virus.
The results were many. More people received more food than they would have otherwise, and the prices of some commodities such as milk rebounded after crashing earlier.
But many questions have also arisen: What happens after these temporary USDA programs end? Will the 30 million Americans who are out of work be dropped? Will the programs that successfully bolstered commodity prices disappear, leaving farmers in the lurch once again?
And even more important, will the food banks and hunger programs across the nation be left with tens of millions of needy families to feed and a lack of food, money and volunteers?
These questions deeply worry those on the front lines of the war against hunger. Even more importantly, they worry the people who desperately need a hand to get by until this pandemic is sorted out. And farmers need an indication of what the future holds for them.
Until those questions are answered, tens of millions of Americans can only hope for the best.
After the emergency programs and money run out, hope could be all they have.