Here’s a little bit about each group. To learn more — and to make a donation — visit posthelpinghand.com.
Across the country, more than 22 million children from low-income families depend on meals provided at their schools. Their families often depend on food banks for help filling out the week’s groceries, but the novel coronavirus has upended that option.
Feeding America works with 200 member food banks across the country. Last week, more than 90 percent of them reported an increase in demand, said Katie Fitzgerald, the charity’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. At the same time, donations to food banks have dropped by more than 50 percent.
This is the landscape Feeding America is navigating right now. It’s working with grocery manufacturers and retailers to purchase large quantities of shelf-stable food for the nation’s food banks.
A lot of us who are lucky enough to still have an income are already afraid when we go the grocery store: fearful we might catch the virus, worried the shelves may be bare.
Now, Fitzgerald said, “Imagine if you didn’t have that money and you have to feed your kids in this environment and your food bank doesn’t have food.”
Meals on Wheels
Every year, Meals on Wheels America serves 2.4 million senior citizens. For many of them, said Jenny Young, vice president of communications, the volunteers who deliver those meals are the only people those seniors will see that day.
For Meals on Wheels, feeding the soul is as important as feeding the stomach.
Of course, that one-on-one interaction isn’t wise now, as older people are among those most susceptible to the virus. In response, Young said, Meals on Wheels is reducing interactions by increasing the number of meals it delivers at a time, providing a week or two’s worth of food. And many of the programs have turned to paid drivers to deliver the meals to doorways.
Young noted that what a lot of the country is experiencing now — orders to stay home — is something its housebound clients have been living with for years. And the number of clients is increasing. More people applied for Meals on Wheels services in the month of March than typically do in an entire year, she said.
As for maintaining a human touch, Young said Meals on Wheels America has ramped up its telephone reassurance programs, contacting seniors more frequently by phone to check on their well-being.
No Kid Hungry
In the United States, 1 out of every 7 children lives in a family that struggles to provide enough food every day.
“Organizations like ours, and many across the country, know how to feed kids,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of No Kid Hungry, the signature campaign of the charity Share Our Strength. “We’re learning very quickly how to feed kids in a situation where those models don’t work.”
Take community food banks. Over the years, many had switched to the pantry system, allowing needy families to come in and pick out the items they want from shelves.
“That puts people in close proximity to each other, touching more things,” Davis said.
And so, many food banks have moved back to providing presorted bundles of food. “People can drive up and get it loaded in the car or quickly handed to them,” Davis said.
The groups supported by No Kid Hungry provide 1.7 million meals a day around the country, Davis said. That number is sure to rise as more breadwinners lose their jobs in a worsening economy.
Davis said that just last Friday, No Kid Hungry approved $4 million in emergency grants. It’s a start, but the virus promises to be here for a while.
“We’re really proud of everything, but, really, the need is much greater,” Davis said.
World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen, the aid group founded by chef José Andrés, has plenty of experience with disasters, having stepped up to help after earthquakes and hurricanes. But the coronavirus is different.
“Typically, disasters are pretty focused in one geographical area,” said Nate Mook, the organization’s CEO. “This is a disaster in all 50 states. And it’s in big cities and small towns. It’s everywhere.”
Another difference: In a natural disaster, the biggest stumbling block is the production of meals. “The electricity may be offline,” Mook said. “The water may be out. The buildings are damaged.”
But now, the buildings are fine. So are the kitchens in them. And, Mook said, fresh produce is out there, though much of it is being discarded because restaurants are closed.
“So the food itself isn’t the primary challenge,” he said. “The primary challenge is getting that food to the people who need it.”
World Central Kitchen has retooled its systems. Meals are “grab and go,” handed out by gloved and masked workers to people who maintain six feet of separation.
Said Mook: “I think, as with everybody that’s going through this, we’re adapting in real time. Every day is a new day. Every day is a new challenge.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.