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Military families are increasingly turning to food banks during the pandemic

Food bank demand surges among military families
Food bank demand surges among military families amid pandemic 02:26

Members of the U.S. military are increasingly turning to food banks to feed their families. Some families said they couldn't last a week without visiting the food pantries.

Desiree Alvarez, her 3-year-old son Elijah and 6-year-old daughter Marysol have had to rely on food banks to survive during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're military, but we're struggling," Alvarez said. "This is the first time that I have consistently had to go to a food bank over and over again."

Her husband is an E-3 private at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, also known as JBLM. They live in Tacoma, Washington, which is expensive for a family of four living on $2,300 a month.

"We couldn't go a full week without having to go get help from a food pantry," Alvarez said. "These kids are worth it, like our family is worth it. We're worth getting the help that we need."

Desiree Alvarez, her 3-year-old son Elijah and 6-year-old daughter Marysol wait in line at a food bank.  CBS News

About 30 minutes away, Thurston County's food bank serves 1,500 military families, a 22% spike since the pandemic began.

Lieutenant Colonel J.P. Smith, a chaplain at JBLM, said the pandemic said military spouses have struggled to find work during the crisis.

"You take a spouse who's normally working, unable to find work because of the COVID pandemic," he said. "If they lose that second income, that's a blow to anybody."

Alvarez had employment until the military transferred her family to Tacoma a year ago. Their financial cushion collapsed when the family's income plunged by more than half.

The Department of Defense estimates the jobless rate for military spouses is 22%. Other estimates run as high as 35%. In San Diego, families using the food bank at the Armed Services YMCA surged 400% percent during the pandemic.

Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, said the pandemic has "exacerbated" the issue for military families.

"What many people don't know is that military families move, on average, every two-and-a-half years. And every time families move, there's a complete restart. That means looking for a new job, finding new childcare, getting set up with new schools, finding a new home," Razsadin said. "And with COVID, families have continued to move. And when you move in a market where you maybe don't have as many housing options or the employment situation isn't what it used to be, it has really created additional problems for military families." 

For more information on how to help military families, visit:

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