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Strengthening Emergency Food Systems

Published Monday Jun 1, 2020

Strengthening Emergency Food Systems

The Carsey Perspectives series presents new ways of looking at issues affecting our society and the world. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the publisher. 

Government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer networks are creating new ways to ensure food is accessible to those who are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.

Strengthening Emergency Food Systems 

One sector especially quick to respond to the pressures created by the pandemic was the nonprofit emergency food safety net. Amid rising unemployment and the closure of nutrition support sites like school cafeterias, demand for food support through nonprofit safety nets has spiked, and food pantries and food banks are experiencing unprecedented increases in volume.

Even in normal times, food pantries are responsive to the characteristics and needs of their communities, and this is true of pandemic responses too. Dissemination via prepackaged boxes allows for bulk distribution, while the option to make selections and then pick them up curbside can be useful in communities with special dietary needs. Mobile food pantries may be especially useful for reaching those with transportation limitations, including people who once relied on now-closed public transit or those in very rural places. Sometimes mobile pantries are paired with other services, like COVID-19 testing.

To support increased levels of need, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) designated $400 million in funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program to support food banks. In part to ease supply pressures, in mid-April the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would attempt to address the mismatch between the glut of unharvested and unsold farm food and the food needs of families by creating the Farmers to Families Food Box program, which partners with local distributors to purchase food from farmers, repackage it into family-sized boxes, and distribute it to food pantries and other nonprofits for dissemination.

More than $1.2 billion in contract awards were announced May 8, with purchases that began mid-May. FFCRA also designated $250 million to support senior nutrition programs, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act designated $500 million to bolster resources for especially high-risk populations.

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