AS DONATIONS DECLINE, THE NEED FOR HEALTHY FOOD INCREASES
On Monday, March 9, Food Lifeline activated its disaster response activities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping our city, state and nation. We have identified key leaders of our team to fulfill specific response activities, and are working to quickly mobilize a plan to ensure our neighbors facing hunger are able to continue accessing nutritious food during this crisis.
Our first actions were focused on ensuring the health and safety of our staff and volunteers. We notified all scheduled volunteer groups that we are cancelling all community volunteer activities. We also put into place a comprehensive cleaning and sanitization program throughout our facility, including hourly cleaning and sanitization of all hard surfaces in general areas and in our warehouse and volunteer production areas, including all the machines, vehicles and equipment our staff members use. Our warehouse and transportation teams are continuing to work their regular shifts, and are adhering to social distancing guidelines.
We also began developing the framework for a new operating model that would continue to get food to people in need while adhering to health and safety guidelines in the field. To that end, we plan to stand up a regular and consistent distribution program of essential, nonperishable groceries to all our neighborhood food bank partners across western Washington. These products will be packed into emergency food boxes and distributed through drive-through or walk-up distributions. We are also thinking through how teams of drivers could be mobilized to help facilitate home delivery of food boxes to seniors and people with disabilities.
Our immediate focus is to increase our food distributions to our agency partners to help meet the growing need as quickly as possible. Without the 500 volunteers that would typically help us each week to sort, evaluate, and pack food for distribution, our administrative staff is working shifts in our volunteer production area to ready products for distribution to our agency partners. We are so proud to report that our team distributed over 700,000 pounds (almost 18 semi-truckloads) of food this past week alone.
We are also working hard to support our meal program partners, who are transitioning their programs to pre-boxed “take-away” meals. We are offering community partners like FareStart and Operation Sack Lunch any products in our inventory that can help them prepare the tens of thousands of meals they are working to produce to serve the community.
Our Governor and state lawmakers understand that the size and scope of emergency food need across our state is already enormous – more than 1.2 million people in Washington turned to a food bank or meal program for help last year. To address this need, Governor Inslee has created a new Food Security Coordination Team, which will be meeting twice weekly throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Food Lifeline, Second Harvest and Northwest Harvest will be the three nonprofit food distribution leads working collaboratively to mount a statewide emergency food response. We will work alongside representatives from the State agencies that operate food and nutrition programs like the School Breakfast and Lunch Program (OSPI), the SNAP (food stamp) program (DSHS) and the TEFAP (federal commodities) program (WSDA). Together we hope to forge a strong public/private/non-profit partnership to meet the need.
There are many challenges we know we will face in coming days and weeks:
- Donated foods of the right types and volumes will not be sufficiently available on an ongoing basis to meet the coming need. We will need to purchase the majority of the product we need.
- The food supply chain is experiencing wide-spread disruptions, so finding reliable sources of food to fuel our work is currently a barrier. We need to identify food industry partners ready and willing to ensure availability of the essential items we’ll need to purchase.
- The cost to source the volumes and varieties of products we will need will be massive – millions of dollars each week. We will seek local, state and federal governmental support to help fund a significant emergency food response effort.
- Private philanthropy will be essential to fund our ongoing operations, enabling Food Lifeline to stay strong, stable and capable of delivering food relief to the community throughout this response. Our needs are especially acute on the front end of this effort.
- Public health and safety protocols will make it necessary for us to mobilize hundreds – if not thousands – of community volunteers. Working in small teams and practicing social distancing, they will help build and distribute emergency food boxes at neighborhood distribution sites. We know our community wants to help, and we’re eager to build a system that can safely activate volunteers to help feed their neighbors.
- We believe the need is going to grow. With wide-spread layoffs and business closures many people will soon receive their last paycheck, and will likely need help putting food on the table. The development of tools and resources to connect people in need to their closest source of support will be vital.
Food Lifeline’s staff and board have never been more committed to our mission of feeding people experiencing hunger today, while working to solve hunger for the future. We are singularly focused on this disaster response, and we invite anyone who would like to help support our efforts to join us on this journey.
To support our work click here or call (206) 545-6600 to make a donation.