Child hunger has skyrocketed since start of pandemic

Poverty and food insecurity was a crisis before the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s worse now with studies suggesting one in five children in California go to bed hungry.

The fight to feed those in need has caused Bay Area food banks to become overrun by increased demand and often times come up in short supply.

To compound it, with children who have been out of school, getting access to free breakfasts and lunches has been a challenge.

"This pandemic has been torture for me, honestly," said mother Lily Marquez of San Francisco who’s now relying on federal food stamps for help. 

Food insecurity across America has doubled over the past year and tripled among homes with children, a study by Northwestern University found. In California, it’s estimated food insecurity jumped from 9% pre-pandemic to nearly 22% by May.

School districts have tried to fill the gap by preparing grab and go meals and opening pick-up sites for those in desperate need.

At Castlemont High School in the Oakland Unified School District, 12,000 meal boxes are prepared each week. 

It’s a small amount compared to the nearly 30% of families in California that advocacy groups say are considered food insecure.

"They’re financially hurting," Oakland Unified Nutrition Supervisor Donnie Barclift said. "When the regular school year started, parents were having to stay home with their kids, helping them with Zoom learning. It was really hard for them to get out to those walk-ups, drive-through sites."

With parents put out of work, a lack of reliable transportation, and delays or trouble accessing other services, more families are suffering.

"I have to pay all these bills, I have to pay the rent and all this stuff," mother Yolanda Torres said. "Then almost nothing is left to pay for food."

A newly proposed California bill would provide every public school student free and reduced priced meals even after the pandemic is over. If passed, it would not require an application process or eligibility requirement.

For now, lots of children are left looking in a box to find their next meal. 

In some cases, that box of meals comes to them. Oakland Unified hired community delivery drivers, providing them a job to serve up smiles and nourish the next generation during trying times.

"I feel great," said driver Eric Yanez. "It’s paying me, keeping my family fed and I’m helping feed other families."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU