Dear friend of Loaves and Fishes:
The easing of the pandemic over the past year or so has helped many people regain their economic footing. But others, including people we serve at Loaves and Fishes, are struggling more than ever. Special pandemic food-assistance payments are being rolled back, inflation has made food more expensive, and housing evictions that were paused during the pandemic are set to resume.
On March 1, more than 90,000 Washington, D.C., households that had been receiving increased benefits during the pandemic from the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, saw those benefits reduced after Congress let them expire. This means that Congress stopped a temporary but necessary boost in food-assistance payments for tens of millions of Americans, including thousands here in our nation’s capital. These additional payments were helping people cover their food needs as they were out of work and as inflation forced food prices upward.
With the expiration of those increased benefits, many families, already pressed financially, went over a hunger cliff. According to the Capital Area Food Bank, the average drop in food benefits for SNAP recipients in the D.C. area was $93 each month. The result, the food bank estimated, will be 23 fewer meals a month for each SNAP participant in the region.
As this post-pandemic economic situation was developing, Loaves and Fishes was noticing its effects.
“The human misery that we see here every weekend — sometimes it’s hard to take. I sometimes get emotional about it,” said Claudia Pabo, Co-Chair of Loaves and Fishes’ Management Board, at its monthly meeting in January. Claudia has been a volunteer in the kitchen and dining room on weekends for about 13 years and has seen the effects of an up and down economy on visitors to the program. She said the circumstances of guests appear to be significantly more difficult and stressful than usual. More of them appear to be outright homeless rather than using our program to stretch food dollars so they can hold onto some form of housing.
As families’ grocery budgets take a hit, local programs around the country like Loaves and Fishes are stepping up and providing any additional assistance that they can. Earlier, Loaves and Fishes had provided 125 to 140 prepared meals to guests on a typical operation day. But in the last few months, it has started providing an additional 40 meals. It also provides bags of groceries for people to take home or bring to other individuals or families in need.
Loaves and Fishes is able to meet some of these increased needs for food. The latest shocks to the system haven’t created needs that would overwhelm Loaves and Fishes’ capacity. But we are a small program that could be susceptible to big shocks in the economic environment. Nevertheless, we can and want to do our part — providing what we can to people in need in our neighborhood and city. We can operate because of your faithful support.
For more than 50 years, members of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, its friends, and local and outside-the-city supporters of Loaves and Fishes have kept the program going. Generous people like you have enabled the program to provide nutritious meals and food to individuals and families week after week, year after year, decade after decade. It is your donations that fill a hunger gap on weekends and federal holidays and provide a lifeline to people who may be unhoused or who are experiencing financial hardship.
The ending of additional SNAP benefits this spring is a very clear cause of hunger gaps, but there are other, sometimes hidden, factors that trigger hunger. We at Loaves and Fishes can’t control inflation, drive a more equitable economic recovery, or provide higher payments by food-assistance programs. That is the role of the federal government, and we know those decisions are happening right here, just a few miles from where Loaves and Fishes operates. But Loaves and Fishes also sees the results of those decisions acutely right here at our doorstep, and our faith calls us to respond to the needs we see, regardless of the causes. As part of that call, we come to you, our loyal supporters, to help us meet the needs in our community.
 To help you understand the scale of this: A typical city block in northwest Washington, D.C., has roughly 45 houses (rowhouse style). Imagine each house containing only one family (household). So 90,000 households would need 90,000 houses, which would be spread out among 2,000 blocks.
Co-Chair, Loaves and Fishes Management Board
P.S. The news about the national economy is mixed these days, as you know. Some are doing well, while others aren’t. There is a whole group of people who feel the effects of a sagging economy first – families that are most vulnerable to financial shocks like sudden decreases in food-assistance payments. That’s who Loaves and Fishes has served for decades, and we can continue doing so with your ongoing support. Please give now.