By Elizabeth Prata
As the virus called COVID-19 and government responses to it continue to tramp around the world and encroach on normal lives, there have been effects. Terrible effects. In many cases the effects of the various local and global governments’ response have been worse than the virus itself.
Suicide and food scarcity are two of the worst effects of the lockdowns but they are silent and hidden.
On December 7, the US Global Leadership Coalition issued a white paper warning of “a looming food crisis.” In it, they list some devastating facts.
David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, said that the world “could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions.” He stressed that there is “a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.” Lack of labor, leading to food supply chain disruptions, which are causing higher prices, which are pricing billions of people out of the nutritious food market (like meat, eggs, and vegetables), have caused a “looming food crisis.”
Further, “Supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and increased consumer demand for food have drastically increased food prices across the globe – exacerbating the severity of food insecurity for 821 million hungry people in developing countries who already spend most of their income on food.”
Here in the United States, it was reported that “grocery prices in April recorded the sharpest increase in 50 years, led by rising prices for meat and eggs. U.S. meat prices could increase as much as 20% as supplies could shrink by nearly 30%. Experts project more than 50 million Americans will be food insecure in 2020, including about 17 million children. Read more here: COVID-19 Brief: Impact on Food Security.
As a result, we have seen a sharp increase in shoplifting. Not of trinkets or TVs, but of food. Items most frequently shoplifted are “consumables and items associated with children and babies.”
That’s heartbreaking. And we are seeing these economic effects of COVID lockdowns and unemployment in our classrooms. Children are pale, or weak, or complain of headaches, or are tired. They’re eating, but barely, and from cans of beans from the dollar stores or food pantries or church distributions, and not healthy meals with fresh produce or meats. They are eating, but only empty calories absent of much of the nutrition growing children need. There are times when I leave school and go home and just cry.
Amid this sad news are some front line heroes I’d like to applaud. LUNCH LADIES. Amid this pandemic, when schools opened up again many of them were with new rules for engaging with students. Small groups are gone, desks put together are gone. Plexiglass separates students. Transition times are staggered. And the cafeteria, what to do about the cafeteria? If you remember lunch time as clamorous and crowded, it’s still that way. Or was.
While we focus on how teachers have had to invent new practices for teaching, so have the lunch ladies! They’ve been a group heavily affected by this new regime. They have always striven to prepare the most nutritious food possible, creating menus that include baked, not fried, fresh veggies and whole fruits like apples and oranges and even blueberries. (You can always tell when it’s blueberry day, kids emerging from the lunch period with blue mouths, lol).
But now add to those, changes in how they create menus with foods that need to be individually wrapped. And, changes in where to serve it. All food is now individually wrapped. That is an enormous addition to their daily work, for both breakfast AND lunch. We’ve staggered times of when groups eat in the classrooms and which week they eat in the cafeteria. So that means after they prepare the day’s food, and after they wrap each and every quesadilla, or pizza slice, or potato, or dish of corn, etc, they load it all onto carts and disperse to various points within the school to serve the classes whose week it is to eat in classrooms.
And imagine the pressure. They know that food insecurity is increasing. They know that for many children the two meals they receive at school are often the only meals they receive all day. They truly care about children and nutrition and full bellies. They’re emotionally stressed too.
In other news, suicides have been increasing, too. We have had two of those tragedies locally this week. One, a woman ran into highway traffic and was hit by multiple vehicles. Another was a 24 year old who took his life on Christmas day. All across the US, school counselors are working hard to keep up with increasing requests to counsel students, kids who are taking on the stress of their parents, who are increasingly splitting up.
I’ve shared global facts and local facts. What does all this add up to? More than facts. The Bible stresses loving care of the most vulnerable populations. We are in uncertain times. So was Paul when he continually sought donations for the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Poverty, crime, despair, uncertainty, tyrannical government, persecution, all part and parcel of the 1st century’s Christian’s life. And ours, too in this day and age.
Widows and children have a special place in the Lord’s heart. Here are just a few of the verses that speak to how the Lord wants His most vulnerable people helped: James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 68:5, Exodus 22:21-24, Psalm 146:9, Exodus 22:22.
We mourn the deaths due to COVID and we grieve the suicides. We rail against increasing tyranny. We long for the Lord’s return. But amid all this, we have an opportunity to help in ways that at least here in America, are unprecedented in recent generations. We should be a Light! Poverty, food insecurity, rising divorces and deaths due to the virus (or other causes) leaving widows, hungry children, …we can help. We should help.
Don’t let these just be facts. Let them spur us to action in helping our neighbors affected by the effects of government decisions about a virus that are harmful to them. Hunger and depression are silent and hidden. But these facts tell us undeniably that they exist. People around us are hurting.
The generous spirit is alive and well here and I’m sure elsewhere. A friend told me that the food drive and the gift drive at school had MORE donations than ever. She had feared that due to increasing joblessness and poverty that it would be a struggle to get people to donate. But no, there was more than before, bless them.
We can be salt and light in ways that we have not been able to recently in America, land of prosperity and vibrancy. We always share the Good News of light and truth, but we can show the world our good deeds shining in the darkness (Matthew 5:15) and point to the One who gives us this generous spirit amid want and our confidence in dark times.