Published 3 years ago.
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As Congress signs off for Thanksgiving, roughly 12 million Americans could soon lose jobless benefits. The hope is that people and companies continue to step up; government programs continue, and the flexibility the food supply chain has gained during COVID will enable a nimbler switch to accommodate future need.
It’s hard to believe that in a country that has so much, so many don’t even have
one nutritious meal each day. In 2019, 10.5 percent or 13.7 million US
households — more than one in ten — had low or very low food security. Even more
disturbing, households with children are more likely to experience food
insecurity and may not qualify for federal nutrition programs. Feeding America
estimates that 17 million children are among the more than 50 million people who
may face hunger due to
“We are in a 100-year flood of hunger,” said Susannah Morgan, CEO of
Oregon Food Bank. “Before COVID, we were already on a trajectory buildup of
escalating need in migrant and immigrant groups who don't qualify for federal
With the pandemic shutdown, families and communities were hit by a perfect
storm: overnight unemployment coupled with the dramatic reduction in supermarket
donations to food banks due to food hoarding and supply chain issues.
In April, the United Nations estimated that 265 million people worldwide
could face severe food insecurity. At the same time, the five-week US job loss
number rose to 26 million, and closures of churches, schools and daycares
eliminated other daily food sources for families and children.
“In July 2019, 500,000 Rhode Islanders were employed. In July 2020, only 460,000
had jobs and the unemployment rate topped 11 percent,” says Andrew Schiff,
CEO of the Rhode Island Food Bank (RIFB), which has 168 member agencies.
In the spring, farms were
with food and dairy products earmarked for commercial-scale processing and
markets. The pandemic closed processing facilities and distribution systems set
up for large-scale commercial packaging that couldn’t retool fast enough to
handle consumer packaging specifications.
Much of that surplus was dumped or buried — at a huge loss to the farmers and
the agriculture sector and to the horror of hungry US families and those trying
to help. On the bright side, donations, direct sales from farms to consumers of
non-USDA-regulated food; and milk-donation events sponsored by companies,
farmers, and associations such as Dairy Farmers of America across
the country got food into the hands of the hungry, but it was only a fraction of
what was needed.
Faced with almost insurmountable demand, food banks and relief organizations
retooled their food acquisition and distribution approaches.
Massachusetts-based Food Link — an organization that rescues and
redistributes food through partnerships, including the Greater Boston Food
Bank — collaborated with Boston College at the height of the pandemic.
They used the college’s idle commercial kitchen and staff to repackage large
milk, yogurt and egg donations, originally destined for food-service channels,
into consumer portions. While this innovative partnership ended with the return
of college students to campus, new partnerships are being formed — including one
with a local vocational high school to have students process the food donations.
Image courtesy of Vanguard Renewables
RIFB switched models overnight, prepackaging donations and holding outdoor,
drive-up food distribution events. In New York City, where drive-up events
are not practical, City Harvest pivoted to walk-in donations.
The Oregon Food Bank built a food distribution network with mobile pantries,
home deliveries, and new brick-and-mortar support. It also provided $300,000 to
help establish the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, which provides immigrant
Oregonians excluded from worker relief programs with a cash payment alternative.
Private corporations contributed some relief in the food access battle by
collaborating with associations, food banks, government and elected officials to
get food and milk into the hands of those who needed it most.
Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation sourced food and critical supplies
for public donation events and to support frontline workers in Rhode Island via
its global supply chain. And Publix Supermarket purchased milk and produce
directly from farmers, and donated it to Feeding America member food banks.
Vanguard Renewables’ collaboration with Dairy
Farmers of America’s Farmers Feeding
Families got more than 17,000
gallons of whole milk to families in Massachusetts and Rhode Island over a
four-week period via drive-up events and collaboration with regional food
For our team, pulling together the milk donation events was a hell of an effort,
but it really felt good as people were pulling up in cars and we were putting
gallons of milk in their trunks. So many families are just a few paychecks away
from not having their nutritional needs met, and that’s devastating in a country
with such abundance.
Although the latest unemployment rate is now down to 6.9 percent, it is still
well above the 3.5 percent rate of February; and an additional 2.4 million jobs
have been permanently lost since then. Elise Springuel, Operations Manager
of Food Link, points out that “unemployment recovery can be misleading; some
Americans may be back working, but at a lower pay rate.”
Per RIFB’s Schiff, temporary government programs such as FEMA meal kits and
increased benefits under the SNAP program are going to end soon. So, despite all
that has been done, the crisis of food insecurity in the US continues. In July,
Feeding America estimated a charitable food need of 17 billion pounds through
June 2021, over three times the last annual food distribution of 5 billion
pounds; it is projecting an unprecedented potential 10-billion-pound food
As I write this, Congress is going on vacation for Thanksgiving week; yet
roughly 12 million Americans could lose jobless benefits the day after
Christmas, per a Century Foundation
First time unemployment claims last week totaled 742,000. Two government relief
programs under the CARES Act are set to expire December 26, which could push
those Americans into poverty and hurt the country’s long-term economic recovery.
The hope is that more people, companies and politicians will continue to step
up; government programs will continue, and the flexibility the supply chain
gained during the pandemic will enable a nimbler switch between food channels to
accommodate future need.
“With other disasters, there is an initial emergency mode; and although recovery
can take a long time, at least it’s a straight line. With COVID, there is so
much uncertainty,” Schiff says. “You find out in an emergency about leadership.
People I wouldn’t have expected, or I didn’t even know, have asked how they can
Published Nov 24, 2020 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
John Hanselman is Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Vanguard Renewables — the U.S. leader in farm-based organics to renewable energy. John launched Vanguard Renewables in 2014 to connect farm-based anaerobic digestion to agricultural resilience and produce renewable energy. His work includes finding a decarbonization pathway for the food and beverage industry by enabling the repurposing of unavoidable manufacturing and supply chain waste into renewable natural gas. John’s strength is bringing together partners in the decarbonization journey and Vanguard has strategic partnerships with Dairy Farmers of America and Dominion Energy, among others. (Read more ...)
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.