The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated inequities, especially food insecurity, for many families along Fairfax County’s U.S. 1 corridor, concluded the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit based at Woodlawn Estate.
Before the 2020-2021 covid-19 pandemic, 58,000 people in Fairfax County were food insecure. During the pandemic, the number doubled.
Titled “Route 1 Lived Experiences Report, Food Insecurity during the Covid-19 Pandemic,” the 20-page study relates the experiences of 15 residents along the corridor, people who the authors say are representative of many struggling families.
“The pandemic affected some members of our community more than others both financially and physically,” said Matt Mulder, Arcadia’s Director of Operations. “It will take a concerted effort by government, community organizations and the business sector to identify, acknowledge and address the root causes of deep systemic inequities that contribute to food insecurity. It is clear that listening to community members’ voices and involving them in fostering solutions is vital to creating a more food secure environment along Route 1.”
Diverse, Low Income
The U.S. 1 corridor is racially diverse, home to many immigrants and one of poorest areas in Fairfax County, the report contends:
- Median incomes were below the county average of $124,831 in 2019. For example, in census tract 4216 median income averages $41,859.
- Over half (51.6 percent) of the population in census tract 4214 lives below 200 percent of the poverty level. (Poverty level for a family of three is $21,960 for 2021)
- Of the county’s total population, 51.6 percent is White; 28.6 percent were infected by covid-19. Hispanics are 16.2 percent of the population, but represent 31.8 percent of covid-19 cases.
With the pandemic’s onset, requests for county services increased by 65 percent, most of which were for housing and food. Likewise, requests to nonprofit organizations, like food pantries, rose between 30 percent to as high as 400 percent. United Community’s new clients, for example, surged by 300 percent.
Real Life Stories
Losing jobs and working fewer hours are common themes in the report. Many lower-wage job holders could not shift to online work. The nature of many jobs put people at higher risk for exposure to the disease. Quarantining resulted in lost income. Parents had to quit jobs to care for children normally in school. People comparison shopped for food and free food distributions became major food suppliers. Family food costs increased because children at home ate three meals a day.
Kevin lost his construction job, took an entry-level job earning less and now receives SNAP benefits and accesses food banks. The family walks or uses public transportation to get food.
Camilla’s husband left her and her school-age child and provides no support. She cannot find work, has no income and relies on food pantries.
Manuel, a taxi driver in the Hybla Valley community, lost riders and thus income. His family relies heavily on food banks.
Pre-pandemic, Jose worked six 10-hour days weekly in construction, but now works only three days a week and goes outside Virginia to find work. His wife was exposed to COVID-19, quarantined and lost her nursing assistant job.
Teresa rents a townhouse with her husband, two children, her mother and three adult brothers. The whole family tested positive for COVID-19. All the adults lost their jobs in food retail or construction.
Mulder commended local responses. “The safety net in Fairfax County was certainly stretched by the pandemic, but the County agencies and staff, nonprofits, businesses and community volunteers stepped up in a major way to keep these crucial services operating.”
Emergency food assistance, however, is “a band-aid approach that provides only temporary relief,” the report observes.
Arcadia officials see the study as a call to action to address the “root causes of disparity” and build more food security “by identifying the systems that perpetuate food insecurity and working to dismantle and recreate them.”
Responding to the findings, Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck said, “I greatly appreciate the report’s broad view and the personalized pictures of Route 1 life and challenges for our neediest residents during the past year. Their experiences are not new, but COVID-19 certainly made it much harder for our corridor’s individuals and families. I especially support that our focus must be on a wellness model versus a deficiency or scarcity one. I am committed to working with and supporting Arcadia and other corridor nonprofits to activate the report’s strategies moving forward to promote food security.”
Among other steps, the report calls for a multi-pronged “food equity plan” that addresses food prices, housing, transportation, education, health care and other factors.
The Northern Virginia Health Foundation funded the project.
To Learn More
The report: http://arcadiafood.org/RT1Report.
Arcadia’s webinar on the report: June 29, 1:30 p.m. Register at https://route1livedexperiencesreport.eventbrite.com.