Jessica Traxler was surrounded by food that she couldn’t afford.

Sitting in a faded-out Chevy sedan one July morning in southern Minnesota, she looked out at corn stalks, lush green, as far as the eye could see. A few miles to the east, a mill was pumping out flour. Just beyond it, a farm grew peppers, beans and berries. To the north, there were dairies, one after the other. To the south, a huge pork plant. Grain elevators, poultry yards, cheese plants—all stood just a short drive away.

If one place underscores just how dire America’s hunger problem has become during the pandemic, it is here—in the middle of the breadbasket that supplies food from coast to coast. The ranks of Americans fighting hunger are projected to swell some 45% this year to more than 50 million. Traxler, her husband and six children are among them. She had come to this spot, an empty school parking lot in the town of Mankato, to collect free boxes of food staples: milk and apples and carrots. Hundreds of Minnesotans waited in line ahead of her for hours.

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