Feeding America & No Kid Hungry: Helping end child hunger
Written by Miriam Ravkin
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted inequalities in our country: from the varying amount of access to educational technology and stable internet for kids distance learning to the burden of childcare on essential workers.
And, of course, the degree of access to healthy food, which has always been a socioeconomic issue but is now exacerbated more than ever.
We spoke to Catherine Davis, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Feeding America, and Laura Washburn, Interim Chief Communications Officer of No Kid Hungry, about the pandemic’s effect on hunger relief, why the summer is always a challenging time for childhood hunger and how their organizations are working to make a difference.
About Feeding America
Feeding America is the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year.
Feeding America serves people of all ages across the country, but children are at increased risk of hunger. That’s why we work with our food bank network to serve summer meals to kids, as well as operate the BackPack Program, school pantries and Kids Cafes.
Catherine Davis serves as the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer.
About No Kid Hungry
No Kid Hungry is a campaign to end childhood hunger in America. We are ending childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive.
Laura Washburn is the Interim Chief Communications Officer, overseeing the strategy to highlight our work through marketing, public affairs, consumer media, digital engagement and corporate partnerships.
Why do you love helping children?
Catherine: Every child deserves the opportunity to live up to their best potential and be the brightest they can be – and that journey starts with consistent access to food. When kids aren’t hungry, they learn, play and grow better. And, instead of worrying about whether they’re going to eat dinner, they can just be kids.
Laura: As a mother myself, it’s unacceptable to me that children in our country are going hungry. Children are our future, yet are the most vulnerable, especially in times of crisis like this one. I believe it’s our shared responsibility to invest in them and set them up for success. When we do this, our whole society benefits. A healthier generation of kids means a stronger workforce, a stronger economy and a better nation.
What challenges are you seeing during COVID-19?
Catherine: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a significant increase in demand, a decline in food donations, and food banks have had to – in many cases – completely reinvent how they distribute food to our neighbors struggling with hunger.
Here are some statistics about the increased need for food:
Feeding America estimates the COVID-19 pandemic could mean a 46% increase or 17.1 million more people who will be at risk of hunger (as compared to the USDA’s most recent estimate of 37 million food insecure people in America, prior to COVID-19).
In addition, Feeding America estimates that an additional 6.8 million children could be at risk of hunger because of the pandemic in 2020 – for a total of 18 million kids in the United States.
Food banks across the Feeding America network are serving 50 percent more people now than they were at the same time last year. Meanwhile, 4 in 10 of those people are completely new to charitable food assistance because of COVID-19.
Despite these challenges, Feeding America and the food bank network remain strong and resilient. Every day, we’re ensuring those in need have food to eat – during the pandemic and beyond.
Laura: Before the Coronavirus crisis hit, one in seven children in the U.S. lived in a family that struggled with hunger. Now, new studies show that as many as one in four children could face hunger this year because of the Coronavirus. When this pandemic caused schools to close nationwide, millions of vulnerable children were left without the healthy school meals they depend on.
Schools and local organizations have had to rapidly create new operations to feed children the meals they normally receive at school, as well as meet a rising need from this pandemic’s economic impacts.
And we expect these challenges to continue as we recover and rebuild in its aftermath. Communities will need the flexibility to find new ways to provide meals to families in need, and increased funding to meet that need. There will be a lot of new need in areas that aren’t yet equipped with the infrastructure or resources to meet it. Many, many families are now facing an uncertain economic future; as a result, many kids will be facing an empty pantry.
What challenges do you typically see with kids out of school for summer break?
Catherine: During the school year, 22 million children in the U.S. receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school. But when school ends, kids no longer have access to those meals. While the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is available to kids when school is out, most kids – 83 percent – don’t receive meals through the program.
Many children are left without meals during the summer months. And at a time when kids should be enjoying playing outside, going to parks, and having fun, many are instead worrying about what their next meal will be.
Laura: Historically, summer has been the hungriest time of the year for vulnerable kids because they are no longer getting school meals. In the wake of the coronavirus, this will be magnified. Schools, food banks and community groups will need to continue operations into the summer and there will be greater demand as the unemployment numbers continue to rise.
What are your funders saying?
Catherine: The amount of support Feeding America has seen over the last few months has been absolutely incredible and without it, we would not be able to respond to this crisis as we have.
Because of the severity of the pandemic, and the amount of new faces our food banks are serving, some people who were once donors are now receiving food assistance.
For instance, Lewis, who lives in Illinois was a journalist with a secure job. Then the pandemic hit: “In the past, my family were the ones donating to the food bank because we had good jobs, a good income. We were secure. Within a month, we were needing the food bank. It can happen to anybody.”
Laura: We have been incredibly lucky to receive an outpouring of support from new and existing funders alike. When schools began to close, and it was clear the effect this would have on vulnerable kids, our funders stepped up and asked how they could help. We’re even seeing support from our restaurant partners, many of whom are being hit particularly hard by the economic impacts of the virus.
Our funders have commented that even more so now, they are seeing how important our work is and the difference it’s making in communities across the country. That gives their employees and leadership the strength and inspiration to get through these tough times, knowing that they are contributing to feeding kids in need.
How are you supporting their community in a safe at home world? If you usually provide direct services, what, if anything, have you pivoted to in order to continue to support their community?
Catherine: The food distribution model has almost entirely shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traditional food pantries and meal programs require direct contact – clients generally go through a sign-in process, walk through a space and choose their food items at a pantry. At many meal programs, clients sit next to each other at tables, or are served food from a buffet.
Because of social distancing requirements, all this had to change. As the pandemic intensified in early March, food banks rapidly began transitioning to contactless food distribution options. In many cases, that meant drive-thru food distributions, where clients stay in their cars and volunteers load groceries into their trunks.
Many food banks have also instituted meal or food delivery options for clients at a higher risk and to further maximize social distancing.
Laura: No Kid Hungry is focused on making sure kids are able to get the food they need both safely and efficiently. We’ve worked with school districts, food banks and local organizations to fund new safety protocols and share best practices around safety measures and responses.
At the policy level, we successfully advocated for a system of waivers that allow schools to let parents pick up meals that last several days or have school buses deliver meals directly to a child’s home, which helped limit exposure for both families and the staff running these meal programs.
Does COVID bring to light broader conversations your organization has been trying to have about systemic issues?
Catherine: Feeding America knows that fighting – and ending – hunger isn’t something we can do alone. Food banks, Feeding America, thousands of partners at the local level, as well as government programs, are all a part of feeding people in need.
What the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us is that so many people in the United States are one bad break away from needing a little bit of extra help. It reminds us that hunger doesn’t discriminate – anyone could lose their job and all of a sudden be in a position to need help.
The pandemic also reminds us that federal food assistance programs, especially SNAP, are incredibly important. We’ve heard from food banks that SNAP referral traffic has been up significantly since the beginning of March. We continue to support legislation that strengthens SNAP during this critical time.
Laura: For more than a decade, No Kid Hungry has worked to remove the obstacles that stand between children living with hunger in America and the food they need. As a result, today we have been able to call on years of experience to respond to the current crisis and its aftermath.
With millions of families now facing an uncertain economic future and hunger, No Kid Hungry is working with our wide network of local partners, elected officials and the media to make sure communities have the resources they need and families know where to find help. This is what No Kid Hungry does, both in times of crisis and not.
It is possible to fight child hunger at this scale, but we will need to continue to build support for the right policies, raise the funds to fuel the work, and continue to find the innovations that help communities adapt to this crisis.
How might your work be forever changed in a post-COVID world?
Catherine: The biggest change we’ve seen is the increased need. As the unemployment rate remains high, the elevated need will continue to exist. At this point, it’s impossible to say when the economy will recover, and until it does, we expect food banks to continue to serve more people than they ever have before.
Laura: Child hunger has long been an invisible problem here in the United States. The widespread nature of this crisis, where as many as one in four children could be facing hunger this year, has brought new public attention to the hunger crisis. The crisis has also exposed the heroic role schools play, not only to educate our kids but as central hubs to feed America’s children. Our work in strengthening school meals has been key to our strategy and in the future, we will look to leverage this new awareness to drive the change needed to solve this problem.
Where can we learn more about your initiatives?
Catherine: The best way to learn more is by visiting our website, feedingamerica.org. There, you can find your local food bank if you want to get involved or need help. You can also make a donation to our COVID-19 Response Fund.
Another way to help is to simply spread the word. Let your friends and family know that hunger is a tremendous challenge in the United States right now, but that by supporting your local food bank or Feeding America, everyone can make a difference.
Laura: We know this feels like a really big problem. And it is. But we know that this problem has a solution. We rely on public support to help us raise not just funds, but awareness of this problem and No Kid Hungry’s work. Together we can solve childhood hunger for good. Go to NoKidHungry.org to learn more about how to support our work.