Feeding Communities in the Midst of a Crisis
As donations decrease, food banks are getting creative to meet the needs of their neighbors.
The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a modern global crisis, but it has also caused positive action as people around the world step up to support their neighbors.
Food banks are a prime example. With 37 million Americans experiencing food insecurity in 2018, these organizations were in high demand before the pandemic. Now, they are working overtime to feed communities who are more in need than ever.
In response, some food banks have opened emergency drive-thru distribution sites. Others are using their savings to purchase food wholesale from new supply lines to replace the usual stream of donations that sustain their work. For Central California Food Bank (CCFB) in Fresno, Calif., slowing down operations wasn’t an option.
“We have been able to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in meaningful ways, significantly increasing the number of clients we serve,” said Kym Dildine, co-chief executive officer of CCFB.
Meeting Rising Demand
Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, CCFB has provided nearly 12 million meals to local residents. In 2018, JPMorgan Chase provided New Market Tax Credit financing to help CCFB move to a new, larger location, which has proven vital to continuing the food bank’s operations during the pandemic.
“This response would not have been possible in our old location,” Dildine said. “The differences in capacity are astounding, both in the amount of product we’re able to acquire, store and distribute and in our ability to safely accommodate volunteers."
Food banks across California have seen a 73% increase in demand during the pandemic. And just like CCFB, Imperial Valley Food Bank is stepping up. The Southern California-based organization broke personal food distribution records in March and April 2020—during the latter, they delivered roughly 20,000 pounds of food in one day.
Fighting Food Insecurity
Food insecurity is not a new issue. In fact, 1 in 8 southern Nevadans struggled with food insecurity before the widespread pandemic. Today, that number is 1 in 5.
As the only food bank in the region serving four counties, Three Square Food Bank has seen the faces that make up these ballooning figures firsthand.
“With the unprecedented closure of all casinos in town and so many people out of work, we’re seeing people who have never needed help coming to us for food,” said Tifani Walker, chief financial officer. “In addition to complying with social distancing, we’ve had to change the entire way we operate. But, we’re pressing forward, and we’re doing what’s necessary to serve this community.”
In 2019, Three Square provided more than 41 million meals to individual and families—the equivalent of more than 50 million pounds of food and grocery products per year. During COVID-19, the food bank is distributing 1.3 million pounds of food a week.
During a recent virtual meeting with JPMorgan Chase’s Nevada Market Leadership Team (MLT), Walker and a group of Nevada-based employees discussed the future of Three Square’s services. “We’re unsure what the long-term impact will be, or how long this situation will last,” Walker said. “But we’re grateful for everything you’ve done to help us in serving the community.”
Help Behind the Scenes
Just as COVID-19 has caused increased food insecurity, it has caused decreased supply to food banks. But suppliers, like Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA)—a milk marketing cooperative and processor owned by dairy farmers in the Midwest—are stepping in to help.
To support the food bank response, MMPA is donating dairy products to food banks in the Great Lakes region. Along with Kroger’s Michigan Dairy plant, the association is gifting more than 2,020 pounds of milk each day to the Food Bank Council of Michigan, which will result in about 85,000 gallons reaching all 83 counties in the state. MMPA has also donated butter and cheese to the United Way of St. Joseph County and local food banks in the Midwest. For example, Heritage Ridge Creamery donated cheese to Second Helpings and Food Bank of Northern Indiana.
“Through COVID-19, we are steadfast in our commitment to support local communities through milk donations,” said Joe Diglio, president and chief executive officer of MMPA. “Ninety five percent of food banks say the milk they receive doesn’t meet the amount they need. Our dairy farmers members strive to close this gap, and since 2015, MMPA has donated over 333,000 gallons of milk to food banks.”
Kaylan Kennel, the director of MMPA Manufacturing, is optimistic about the future.
“During tough times, good organizations and good people have to stretch their abilities to meet the challenge, and when we come out of this, we will come out a stronger organization,” he said.