Nov. 19, 2020
By Eileen Hyde, Director, Sustainable Food Systems and Food Access
The problem of food insecurity is not new. Yet amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s taken on new urgency, as job loss and school closures disrupt the rhythms of life – and have often left America’s children unsure of where their next meal is coming from.
In June, there were 14 million children living in food insecure households, according to The Brookings Institute. For the sake of comparison, consider this: That’s more than two times the number of kids who were food insecure at the height of the 2008 recession – and more than five times as many kids who were food insecure in all of 2018.
As COVID-19 continues to drive food insecurity, many nonprofits are searching for creative solutions to help meet the needs of children in their own communities. That’s where we come in.
Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have long been committed to fighting food insecurity, and we’ve been working to support nonprofits around the nation, to adjust their programs in light of fast-changing realities.
As cities and communities grapple with the peaks and valleys that have come to define the pandemic, schools have been opening and then closing again – challenging access at the place many kids receive their only guaranteed meal of the day. And as parents are furloughed, shifts are cut and businesses are closed, programs already under tremendous pressure have felt a new strain.
Through a suite of grants totaling more than $8 million, the Walmart Foundation is investing to help organizations fighting food insecurity continue to advance their programs through ingenuity and changing methods. Our work with nonprofits like Brighter Bites, FoodCorps, the YMCA and No Kid Hungry is furthering our mission of offering healthy food to kids, even in changing times.
Over the summer, nonprofit Brighter Bites experienced a 2,000% increase in demand for services, when compared to the same time last year. The Brighter Bites program works to provide consistent access of fruits and vegetables, combined with education, to expose students and their families to healthier ways of eating. But without in-class instruction and demonstrations, Brighter Bites had to think differently.
Like many, they turned to online learning. Recipe demonstrations are now streamlined online, and families are picking up their produce while social distancing, then scanning QR codes to access recipes, tips and materials by way of a redesigned mobile app. While Brighter Bites’ pivot to online learning was unexpectedly accelerated by the pandemic, it has pushed the organization into a more sustainable future.
FoodCorps, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting kids to healthy food in schools, rallied its vast network of community-based AmeriCorps service members to continue collaborating with schools and districts on creative solutions for increasing food access and providing nutritional and academic support. As some schools reopen and others shift education online this year, corps members are serving their communities during COVID-19 in new ways. From supporting school nutrition staff with food distribution, to sharing new video lessons about cooking and gardening, to maintaining community and school gardens, service members continue to nurture a love of nutritious food. FoodCorps also leveraged its policy platform to advocate for policies that increase food access and nutrition education.
With funding from the Walmart Foundation, YMCAs around the country are able to continue standing up food programs and transition to Grab & Go and innovative delivery methods. Many of these food programs complement the Y’s critical childcare offerings for first responders and essential workers.
National anti-hunger campaigns like No Kid Hungry are ensuring that healthy food remains a constant by working with schools around the country to help children get the meals they need. In Florence Township, New Jersey, a grant from No Kid Hungry allowed a school cafeteria to go from serving 20 meals a day to 120 – opening free meals to kids in the community who otherwise may have had nowhere to turn.
As long as the coronavirus continues to disrupt normal life, it’ll also continue presenting challenges to organizations fighting child food insecurity. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are committed to helping organizations fight food insecurity, so people everywhere can live better.