Hunger Shows Up in Food Pantry Lines, Shoplifting

Stores notice an uptick in theft of basic goods as the pandemic persists and more Americans seek food assistance.

December 14, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Since the pandemic began last spring, retailers, security experts and police agencies across the country have noted an increase in shoplifting, especially of staples like bread, pasta, baby formula and hygiene products, the Washington Post reports.

“We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” Jeff Zisner, chief executive of workplace security firm Aegis, told the Post. “It’s not a whole lot of people going in, grabbing TVs and running out the front door. It’s a very different kind of crime—it’s people stealing consumables and items associated with children and babies.”

Shoplifting had already climbed in 2019, according to the 32nd Annual Retail Theft Survey. Two-thirds  of participating retailers reported an increase in shrink in 2019, while 23.8% reported a decrease and 9.5% reported no change, NACS Daily reported in May.

The pandemic has shuttered businesses, forced layoffs and resulted in more than 20 million Americans on some form of unemployment assistance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 54 million Americans will struggle with hunger this year, up 45% over 2019.

“We know that access to nutritious food is essential for a healthy lifestyle. Yet many people across the country may not know where they will find their next meal and the pandemic further exacerbates this issue,” said Blake Thompson, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Feeding America.

Media reports of miles’ long lines for food giveways over the past six months have highlighted the growing problem. An Associated Press data analysis found a sharp rise in the amount of food distributed compared with last year. The analysis of Feeding America data from 181 food banks in its network found the nonprofit has distributed nearly 57% more food in the third quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2019.

The Feeding America network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs has been on the front lines responding to increased demand for food assistance this year. Feeding America projects 1 in 6 people could face food insecurity in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including 17  million children. Feeding America’s network provides food assistance to more than 40 million people annually.

“Hunger doesn’t take a break during the holidays, and millions of our neighbors may struggle to put food on the table this month and beyond,” said Lauren Biedron, vice president of corporate partnerships at Feeding America. “We are grateful for our partners’ commitment to fighting hunger and for providing opportunities for everyone to give back this holiday season.”

Casey’s, Sheetz and Wawa are among the nationwide convenience retailers who have partnered with Feeding America and local food banks to help ease hunger in the U.S.  

Contact your local food bank to see how you can help during the holidays and beyond. For more information on ways you can fight hunger year-round, visit