Hungry Americans are waiting in miles-long lines as food banks struggle to keep up with demand. Here’s a look at how rising unemployment and dwindling volunteer pools are impacting US food pantries.

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Los Angeles citizens wait in line at a food bank last week. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
  • As national unemployment rates swell amid the coronavirus, food banks around the country have become overwhelmed with demand and are struggling to keep up due to a lack of volunteers.
  • More than 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks alone, bringing national unemployment rates up to 13% the highest rate since The Great Depression.
  • We took a closer look at growing lines at food banks around the country.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Food banks across the country are struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand for food, as volunteer numbers sharply decline in the face of the coronavirus.

More than 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks alone, bringing national jobless rates up to 13% and leaving families struggling to get food on the table. In turn, food banks are experiencing a massive influx of hungry Americans, gathering in lengthy lines spanning city blocks or waiting in miles-long traffic to collect groceries from drive-through pantries.

Meanwhile, farmers are being forced to dump thousands of gallons of milk and destroy millions of pounds of fresh produce due to a lack of infrastructure to distribute it to food pantries in need, according to a report from The New York Times. With major buyers like restaurants and schools indefinitely shuttered, farmers are buried under surplus food but don’t have the resources and volunteer manpower necessary to physically transport it to food banks.

In response, organisations like the American Farm Bureau and Feeding America are experimenting with ways to prevent food waste and transport produce and dairy products to food pantries. Meanwhile, in some of the hardest-hit regions of the country, the National Guard has been called to step in and help dole out food.

Still, this extra assistance is proving to be insufficient, as countless Americans in need continue to wait anxiously for boxes of groceries to support their families during uncertain times. Here’s a closer look at crowded food banks and the people staffing them around the nation.


In New York, which has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US, food pantries have declared a national emergency as they buckle under the weight of demand and a lack of volunteers.

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A food bank volunteer enforces social distancing recommendations.

According to New York City Mission Society, an organisation dedicated to fighting multi-generational poverty in the city, food pantries are experiencing a 60% increase in demand for volunteers as several fall ill or opt to stay at home out of fear of contracting the virus.

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A volunteer hands out food at a food bank during the coronavirus.

A man leads food bank volunteers in prayer before distributing groceries in New York City last weekend.


With volunteer pools decreasing dramatically, food pantries have been left with skeleton crews to organise food donations and distribute them to those in need.

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Food bank volunteers in New York City.

Remaining volunteers in New York City unload boxes of food in Manhattan last weekend.


Elsewhere across the US, long lines are forming at food banks in cities like Boston …


… and Los Angeles, where thousands of residents lined up in the rain recently to pick up food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.


A woman in a poncho, face mask, and gloves waits eagerly to get one of the 2,000 available from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.


A volunteer mans the toilet paper at the San Diego Food Bank, which is doling out groceries and toiletries to families visiting by car.


As food pantries struggle to keep up, some are getting creative with how they donate food, like this young girl in Arizona who built a community food pantry with her family.


Some regions have called for the assistance of the National Guard, like this food distribution centre in New Rochelle, New York, one of the early hot spots for the virus.


The National Guard also lent a hand at food banks in Washington, another state that experienced an early uptick in confirmed coronavirus cases.

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National Guard soldiers pack food in Lakewood, Washington.

In an effort to prevent person-to-person contact and increase efficiency, many locales have transitioned to drive-through food banks, like the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.


In Irving, Texas, cars lined up a mile down the road to collect groceries form the North Texas Food Bank last week.


In Pittsburgh, mobs of cars line up for boxes of food at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.


In Los Angeles, cars spanned several miles from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and Labour Community Services. Residents waited to obtain a box with produce, frozen chicken patties, and a meal kit.


In Nebraska, cars pulled up down a block in Omaha where residents ran out to quickly collect food from a local food bank.


A volunteer registers families waiting to collect food from a drive-through food bank in LaGrange, Kentucky.

“There’s a lot of people who make minimum wage, so they’re going to need food for their families who are now no longer attending school or just not going to be able to make enough to get their family through this quarantine,” a volunteer in San Francisco told the Associated Press.