The Greater Boston Food Bank is projecting a 59 percent increase in the number of people in Eastern Massachusetts who will experience food insecurity due to the pandemic. On the Cape, that number is expected to be higher; during normal times, about 10 percent of the population of the peninsula – approximately 28,000 people – experience food insecurity, according to Christine Menard, director of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod. This fall, that figure is expected to increase by 70 percent, encompassing every demographic, from young families to seniors.
Unemployment figures show why many families and working-age people may experience food insecurity this fall as well as anxiety over meeting housing and other expenses. In Chatham in August, the unemployment rate was 8.5 percent, compared to 1.9 percent in August 2019. The figure was even lower in July, with a 13.2 percent unemployment rate. The numbers are similar in Harwich and Orleans. The unemployment rate in Harwich this August was 10.8; a year ago it was 2.6. In Orleans, the rate in August 2019 was 2.1, but this year it was 9.1. Countywide, the unemployment rate this August was 10.4 compared to 2.5 in August 2019.
Granted, these rates are significantly lower than during the spring shutdown; in Chatham, the unemployment rate peaked at 18 percent in April; in Harwich the rate was 22.6 percent in April; Orleans had a high of 18.4 percent, also in April.
The high summer unemployment rates – coming at the time when many residents are working long hours, often a couple of jobs, to take advantage of the height of the season – indicate that there will be many people suffering financially during the upcoming months. These are our neighbors, and while organizations such as the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund, the Lower Cape Outreach Council, Housing Assistance Corp., the Chatham Ecumenical Council Helping Prevent Homelessness, the Harwich Ecumenical Council for the Homeless and the Family Pantry are ready to help, they will likely see an unprecedented number of requests. Those organizations will need assistance as well. Those of us in a position to do so need to step up and show that despite the division we all hear about in the national news, Cape Codders take care of their neighbors.
Go to www.capecodchronicle.com to find links to donate to the organizations listed above or apply for assistance.