During these unquestionably uncharted times, it’s natural to give into apprehension and be tempted to over-buy and hoard supplies. Just this week, I ran out of rice and was startled by the empty shelves at both my neighborhood grocery and the Trader Joe’s near Food52’s offices—a sight I’ve only witnessed once before (three years ago, when snow threatened Atlanta, causing staples like milk and bread to be purchased en masse). But there’s an opportunity for us all to consider the impact our choices have on our neighbors, and to take action—even during quarantine—to support our communities at large.
In the United States, one in nine people struggles with hunger. This is further exacerbated during emergency situations like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and our current COVID-19 pandemic, where income and lifestyle disruptions place an extra burden on families already struggling to meet basic needs.
Over-buying, then, means empty shelves for neighbors on fixed incomes, who often do not have the resources to procure weeks’ worth of food at once. Especially for those who are more likely to rely on hourly wages, meaning fewer options to work from home and no paycheck if doors are closed. Likewise, children in low-income households more commonly rely on free or reduced-fare meal programs at their schools and after-care programs, which are not available if schools are closed. As of March 16, 98,277 schools nationwide have closed, which affects over 50 million students.
Also adversely affected by over-buying are local food banks, which are the storage and distribution channels for the direct providers in the community: food pantries, which provide groceries, and prepared meals from community kitchens and meal delivery services for the homebound. These organizations rely on donations from national food and grocery manufacturers, retailers, shippers, packers and growers.
All this to say: Empty shelves mean less food is donated to our local food banks and made accessible for families most at need. In such emergencies, when less food is being donated, organizations must rely on individuals like us to supplement their normal procurement streams.
Here’s how we can help:
- Feeding America has started a COVID-19 Response Fund where you can contribute to communities and individuals facing hunger across America.
- No Kid Hungry donations help send emergency grants to food banks and community groups to feed children in the hardest-hit communities.
- Meals on Wheels donations will support local programs that keep seniors safe and living independently nationwide.
With less time commuting and attending group gatherings, there’s an opportunity to give back your extra hours.
- Search for your local food bank, where you can find opportunities to volunteer in your local area. Further, your local food bank can help identify and locate neighborhood food pantries and community kitchens that may need volunteers.
- Spend your lunch break delivering nourishing food to the elderly with Meals on Wheels’ "America, Let’s Do Lunch" program.
- Contact your Senators to support the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. On Saturday, March 14, the House of Representatives passed a H.R. 6201, which provides emergency funding to support food security initiatives, including student meals, SNAP, seniors’ meals, and food banks. No Kid Hungry has a link to call your Senator and a suggested script to urge your Senator to pass this legislation.
- Reach out to your local neighborhood listserv or community organizers to see if there are neighbors in your area who could use help getting food, meals, or prescriptions delivered.
- Share socially! We’re all facing a lot of time at home—and on the Internet—and getting the word out through your social channels can further amplify your efforts.
Here in the N.Y.C. area, there are a number of great ways to get involved:
- Just a $1 donation to the Food Bank for New York City provides five meals to New Yorkers. Donate, volunteer, and advocate as they prepare for an increased demand in emergency food for those quarantined and impacted by the economic downturn.
- Through the Food Bank for New York City’s Get Help page, New Yorkers can find organizations in your neighborhood where you can volunteer at a food pantry, community kitchen, or senior center.
- Now through April 17, City Harvest's Board of Directors are matching $2 to every $1 donated, tripling the impact of funds. Additionally, individuals can sign up to volunteer at Greenmarkets citywide and at their Food Rescue Facility in Long Island City.
- In conjunction with City Harvest, Citymeals on Wheels delivered 200,000 meals to homebound seniors across the city on Saturday. Sign up to package, serve, or deliver food—you can also volunteer to create cards and chat with seniors via weekly phone calls.
- For every $54 donated, God’s Love We Deliver can provide a bag with enough shelf-stable food for one week of medically tailored nutrition to people who live with severe illness.
Whether you’re in New York City or reading from somewhere else around the globe, the Food52 community has the power to deliver an incredible impact during this trying time. Seek out and support your local organizations, check in on your neighbors, find a place to volunteer, and consider your community. And please add to our list in the comments below.