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AP analysis and reporting: Millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for 1st time

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Long lines of people and queues of traffic seemed to indicate that the use of food banks was on the rise in the U.S. as the COVID-19 pandemic hit home. But a team of AP journalists was determined to get to the facts behind the assumptions and tell the stories of those relying on handouts — many for the first time.

Working with exclusive data from anti-hunger association Feeding America, the AP team delivered an accurate, powerful picture of food insecurity and economic distress in the U.S.

Phoenix reporter Anita Snow made first contact with Feeding America,which describes itself as the largest U.S. hunger-relief organization — they coordinate with 200 food banks across the country to hand out billions of pounds of food. After meeting with Snow,AP data editor Meghan Hoyer and other AP editors,the organization agreed to collect and share distribution data from most of its partners,giving hard numbers on the amount of food flowing to American families.

The data showed Feeding America has never handed out so much food so fast — 4.2 billion meals from March through October. The organization has seen a 60 percent average increase in food bank users during the pandemic — about 4 in 10 are first-timers. AP’s analysis of Feeding America data from 181 food banks in its network found the group has distributed nearly 57 percent more food in the third quarter of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.

As well as the hard numbers,AP journalists across the U.S. spent hours in food lines,talking to people who were extremely reticent to open up about an experience many of them found very painful — getting free food because they couldn’t afford to feed their families. Chicago’s Sharon Cohen wrote the story with contributions from Snow,Rebecca Santana, Mark Thiessen and Martha Irvine.

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Irvine shot and edited video,with feeds from Jessie Wadarski,Thiessen and Charles Rex Arbogast. Images from photographers across the U.S.,including Arbogast,Gerald Herbert,Ross Franklin,John Raoux,Jim Mone,John Locher,Gene Puskar and Thiessen,showed the faces of those receiving food,sensitively capturing them both at food centers and and home. Photo editor Patrick Sison and designer Dario Lopez brought the all-formats package together with striking edits and presentation, and Phil Holm designed visualizations of the data.

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As people wait at a bus stop, Marcus Carter, left, who turns 50 on Christmas Day, panhandles for food money on Chicago’s upscale shopping corridor, the Magnificent Mile, near a public service poster about hunger, Nov. 18, 2020. Now, in the pandemic of 2020, with illness, job loss and business closures, millions more Americans are worried about empty refrigerators and barren cupboards. Food banks are doling out meals at a rapid pace and an AP data analysis found a sharp rise in the amount of food distributed compared with last year. Meanwhile, some folks are skipping meals so their children can eat and others are depending on cheap food that lacks nutrition. – AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast

For telling data analysis and on-the-ground coverage that harnessed AP’s national footprint to reveal the consequences of the pandemic economy, this AP team earns Best of the Week honors.

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