Food needs nearly doubled in the first year of COVID-19 across the U.S., but not in Tennessee. Why? We examined 54,614 requests to 2-1-1s in Tennessee during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 12, 2020 to March 11, 2021), and compared it to requests from the same dates 12 months prior, 2019-2020. The four needs that increased most were the same ones found in a recent national report, but the order was quite different. Nationally, requests to 2-1-1s for food assistance rose 97% — the biggest year over year increase of any need. In Tennessee, food needs grew by only 25%, easily outpaced by growth in requests for assistance with utility payments (+72%), housing, rent and shelters (+41%), and employment and income (+32%). Russ Jensen, Director of Knoxville’s Center for Service Innovation, believes the difference lies in local efforts that began almost immediately when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. These included distributing perishable and nonperishable food supplies to individuals and families, boxed meals for children when schools closed, and providing shopping services for those in quarantine and seniors. The chart on the left shows month-by-month request totals before COVID (blue line) and during COVID (green line); the chart on the right shows the percentage change from before to during COVID for selected need categories. Data for this analysis came from 211 Counts, a daily tracking system of communities needs used in 38 states. Mouse over each line to see monthly requests for 2019-2020 (blue line) and 2020-2021 (green line); mouse over each bar to see the increase between the two years.
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