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Return to Pandemic Hunger Levels Could Signal Economic Fragility

A visit to the nation's largest food-bank warehouse provides some insight

As economists and investors scour data on inflation, jobs, housing, banking and other bellwether indicators to determine whether the United States is headed for a recession, a visit to the nation's largest food-bank warehouse offers some ominous clues.

More than half of the shelves at the Atlanta Community Food Bank are bare, in part because of supply-chain issues, but mostly because demand for food assistance is as high as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit's executives said. They said two in five people seeking food assistance in the Atlanta region this year have not done so before.

"Nobody anticipated this," said Debra Shoaf, chief financial officer of the private charity, which relies on corporate and individual donations, as well as government grants, to distribute food to the hungry in 29 Georgia counties. Shoaf, who also serves on the finance steering committee for the national charity Feeding America, says she is hearing similar reports across the United States. "We're back up to pandemic levels."

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