Fighting Hunger with Community in the Era of Coronavirus

The founder of D.C. Central Kitchen offers a list of ways to feed and care for our neighbors in this time of uncertainty.



Coronavirus is producing a wave of need that will likely overwhelm most local food distribution charities and meal programs. But that doesn’t mean people have to go hungry.

Even before this virus hit, food banks and pantries were struggling to meet the needs of an estimated 37 million Americans who routinely struggle with hunger. Similarly, in many communities there’s a waiting list for Meals on Wheels, the main vehicle through which many home-bound elders access meals. Now, these and other networks are facing an unprecedented trifecta of difficulty.

Charitable donations of food and money—the lifeblood of all nonprofits—will likely be impacted by the economic tailspin caused by the virus. Volunteerism will also decrease, as companies, religious groups, schools, and individuals pull back out of concern for their members’ safety. (In addition, many volunteers are seniors, and they will need to step back from the work for their own safety.) Finally, demand for free and low-cost food will soar, as Americans of all ages, who are impacted by lay-offs, canceled events, and retirement plan losses will turn to charities for help.

We have to admit, as we have with our healthcare system, that our charitable systems aren’t prepared to meet an emergency of this level. So, we need to innovate—and we need to do it fast.

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While the federal government weighs its response, and national groups including Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, and others work overtime to keep their networks sourced with food, we should also look at how to support our own communities in this unprecedented movement of anxiety, fear, and need. Here are my suggestions:

Launch an elder grocery support network. Many communities have Facebook or Nextdoor pages dedicated to sharing news. These can be activated to enlist healthy, willing, and able-bodied volunteers to shop and run errands for frightened, health-compromised elders. Physical contact must be limited, but volunteers can leave groceries outside people’s homes and funds can be transferred electronically before or after the supplies are bought. Volunteers can shop later at night to avoid crowds. Volunteers can also make stops at pharmacies or drug stores and elders should be reminded to buy things they might need if they become ill. For example, Gatorade or other forms of electrolytes could be vital. Also ask about pets’ needs.

Start a shared meal program. As you shop for your own supplies, consider buying extra food to prepare meals for neighbors. Rice and beans, soup, chili, and baked pasta are all easy, affordable options. Cost-conscious recipes are easy to find online. Food safety must be a priority. Cook food to a proper temperature, and deliver anything you make within two hours, to avoid contamination. Use disposable bowls and plates if you can, to avoid the need to return containers. If possible, try to use microwave-friendly packaging (avoid tinfoil and styrofoam). Write a note of comfort, and include the time the meal was cooked and any reheating directions.

Fight isolation. For many elders, the pain of loneliness often exceeds that of hunger. Organize your community to check in with people. Walk your neighbors’ dogs, help tend their gardens, or cut some spring flowers to brighten their worlds. You can chat, or drink a glass of wine together by phone or over video, which gives you the ability to communicate eye-to-eye with people. Either way, if you can help lessen the impact of this period of social isolation, it will go a long way.

As my friend Chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen said recently, “Sometimes the bigger problems we face in humanity have simple solutions. But they don’t happen when we’re in continuous meetings about how to solve them.… Stop talking, stop planning, and start cooking.” I couldn’t agree more.

We’re in the midst of an unprecedented disaster, and we can’t expect charity, or the government to meet the rising need. Nor can we let fear overcome us. Now is the time to fight hunger with community. You can be a local hero who stands up and says, “Let’s do this.” All it takes is determination, compassion, and a working kitchen.

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  1. Wednesday, April 1st, 2020
    Short-term approaches to food security are to plant annual vegetables in our backyards and in community gardens. Seed and bean sprouts are highly nutritious and can be ready to eat in five days.

    Long-term approaches include saving the seeds of this year's vegetables to plant next year, and planting fruit and nut trees that grow well in our geographical location.
  2. Thursday, April 9th, 2020
    Hello,
    I was working with the Mission Viejo and Irvine Bruegger's stores in Orange County, CA to pick up the unsold bagels they throw away at the end of the day and distribute it to the organizations that serve the under privileged including the UCI students who cannot afford a meal plan. But the store managers are not willing to donate anymore but with COVID19, the need for food donations has become all the more crucial to the survival of these students and the family who are struggling to earn income and find food during this global crisis. Would you be able to donate food and ingredients so I could continue to serve them? I support different organizations serving local community and here is the website I built for anyone who has questions.

    https://0wasteinitiative.wordpress.com/

    I will also be happy to extend this to the front line workers at the Irvine hospitals.
    Your kindness in this matter would be much appreciated.
    • Dr. Cheryl Romano
      Sunday, April 19th, 2020
      Hi, did the grocery stores say why they stopped donating goods? Is it because they can sell things in their “expired food” area? My local Ralph’s has their goods next to the restroom in two storage self units. One for canned goods and non food items with dents, rips, etc, and the other with their bakery items. Lots of people buy those, but there are still a lot of goods left over. Curious. I have been an American Red Cross volunteer since 1984. We are to doing much right now because our meetings have to be virtual, and all most healthy, younger volunteers are taking the load. I am 60 with asthma and right now have cellulitis. I feel very frustrated because I want to be out there, and now with the tornados in the south, I would love to deploy. God bless you for what you do. We are fortunate to have a mission. Cheryl
  3. Ellen Fine
    Monday, April 13th, 2020
    Hi Folks,

    We are Food for Activists and we feed unhoused folks (homeless) at the new (side entrance) of the Main Branch of The Boston Public Library on Boylston St. everyday from about 4:30-6.

    Sadly and triumphantly, this location is next to the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon, known for one of
    Boston 's most difficult hours-The Boston Marathon Bombing and the place of celebration as tens of thousands cross that Finish Line, every year except this one.

    Even in the year after the bombing, Big Papi and the Red Sox stopped the Duck Boat parade at this spot to place the World Series trophy there to show good and community can triumph over terrorism and cruelty.

    Now like most of your cities, this iconic Boston landmark is empty. And a a week from today there would've been a million people in the streets from Hopkinton to the Boylston Street Finish Line.

    The only people who remain are a few essential workers and the unhoused and our street crew to feed them everyday at 4:30.

    We... Boston, need to do better to feed people!

    Food for Activists takes many precautions like individually wrapped foods, 6' social distancing, sanitizing, wearing masks and gloves. Our older and immune challenged founder and a few volunteers are on remote support.

    If you are a Boston Food or Homeless activist, this is being organized by Dan the Bagelman, well known food -homeless activist in Boston and a bunch of helpers. We've even had a City Councilor making PBS & J's for us plus generous donations from Kupel's Bakery, Tatte, The Copley Fairmont, CVS...

    To Our Boston Area Chefs & Restaurants: We would love donations of individually boxed and wrapped meals- especially hot, healthy foods prepared in food safe professional kitchens. Individually wrapped sandwiches and pizza are ok, yet a rice dish w veggies, maybe some chicken, with some salad greens would be amazing!

    The donated kitchen where we normally cook meals on Saturday is shut down.

    Are there chefs in Boston who can help us feed upwards of 50-60 per day? We hope to expand to another location, soon.

    We feed the folks who are not part of the shelter system due to overcrowded conditions, scaled back space due to social distancing implementation, and distrust of having backpacks and possessions stolen or getting sick at the shelter.

    Everyday we are feeding folks, sometimes yogurt, fruit, water, baked goods from local bakeries. Often, it's PB & J or other types of sandwiches.

    We know who we feed and what they like to eat, who likes bagels, who doesn't have teeth to chew certain foods, who likes spicy food, who is a diabetic.

    Anyone who wants to help out in anyway, please contact me. We are grateful for any assistance. And a profound thankyou and wish for your health and well being....

    Ellen Fine
    Food Co-ordinator
    Food for Activists
    (781)824-0154
    ellen_bfine@yahoo.com
  4. Jaime
    Saturday, April 18th, 2020
    I’d like to help in any way- shop for elders or visit them or do groceries off for families and children in need. Please provide me with suggestions of how and where I can help in my neighborhood here in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, New York.
    • Anna
      Sunday, April 26th, 2020
      I doubt you'll ever see this Jamie, but as suggested in the article you could use Facebook or Nextdoor to let people know you want to volunteer your time to assist those in need. Search for your neighborhood and make a post letting people know what you will do. Tell them how to contact you and you're all set. You may need to post a few times before people in your neighborhood see it.
      Or even better in my opinion, especially when it comes to the elderly is for you to make and distribute a hand written flyer to people in your neighborhood. I bet you would get a lot of takers that way.
  5. kaliq simms
    Tuesday, April 21st, 2020
    Please send more ways to mobilize communities to help each other in these times. I work in Baltimore in the Park Heights neighborhood 21215 (one of the hardest hit by pandemic in the state). I work to support students and families at five area public schools. Food deserts/insecurity has been an issue in our neighborhood for years and now it is even worse. Thanks!
  6. Sunday, April 26th, 2020
    Our church is Christ the Lord Lutheran Church (CTL) in Carefree, Arizona. We are working with NELM (above) to provide food water and medical supplies to the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area where they currently have the 3rd worst Coronavirus epidemic per capita. Can you help us get food to them in this desolate area? We could arrange trucks to deliver from Scottsdale or they have a community center in Rock Point. Please Help them. We took one truckload and trying to bring more water in as well. They need more!
  7. Doreen Aiello
    Wednesday, April 29th, 2020
    Is there a face mask supported by the WCK?
  8. Tuesday, May 5th, 2020
    We are a contact feeder with a 40,000 square foot production facility...standing by to help.

    We also have 20 I house drivers who deliver via routes throughout Hampton Roads, Virginia

    Please call we would love to help you meet production capacity.

    Mia Guinan
    President
    757-617-0033
  9. M nimon
    Tuesday, May 5th, 2020
    Dear Robert ~ I want to make a Chewye donation to JOSE ANDRES’ world central kitchen efforts feeding our people in need during this horrid coronavirus pandemoniac. Please advise address to send. Thank you. God bless and watch over your miraculous efforts. Stay safe. Stay well.
  10. Angelina Butler
    Tuesday, May 26th, 2020
    How can i go about getting food for someone who is a senior citizen and lives alone.