Article

How community nonprofits shift focus to solve for food insecurity

By Laura Shear, Sr. Manager, Content and Impact Marketing

Published November 25, 2020
Last updated November 25, 2020

Zendesk has long partnered with community nonprofits in each of the cities housing our corporate offices. Yet like so many things that have changed as a result of COVID-19, our work with community partners is evolving—and so is their work. Though our physical offices house only skeleton crews, we’ve stayed connected and have been made aware of the challenges these organizations face, coupled with dramatic data about hunger and food insecurity across the globe.

Around the world, more people worldwide are going hungry now than before the pandemic hit. And nonprofits worldwide have had to pivot from providing essential services like mental health counseling and tutoring to offering the most essential service of all: giving food.

At a time when fewer volunteers and resources are available, this new reality has meant wholesale changes to how organizations operate. Regardless of their original mission, most nonprofits now must find a way to ensure clients—whether refugees, new mothers, homeless, or any other population—have adequate food, through partnerships, new programs or other creative solutions.

A grim reality in the land of plenty

In the United States, many of us became aware of the scale of the country’s food insecurity problem as COVID-19 first threatened to close schools. School districts in this country provide much more than learning for hundreds of thousands of families, and administrators worried about at-risk students if they weren’t receiving meals during the course of the school day. Among other risk factors affecting America’s children, hunger is such a widespread problem that districts scrambled to distribute food after closing schools.

Citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data, Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, reported that more than 38 million Americans — about 1 in 7 people — were food insecure in 2018. According to a recent study, that number could “double in the wake of the economic havoc caused by the novel coronavirus” with food insecurity rates reaching “up to 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 2 children.”

In New York City alone, as reported by the New York Times, “In the seven months since the pandemic began, people made nearly 12 million visits to New York City food pantries, a 36 percent jump compared with the same time last year, according to City Harvest," a nonprofit that brings fresh and nutritious food to the five boroughs.

[Related read: 6 companies tackling social justice and inspiring customers]

The same article notes that BronxWorks, a nonprofit group that provides support services to individuals and families, served fewer than 500 people each month before the pandemic. Today, it provides food to nearly 4,000 a month. Complicating the crisis is the fact that need is spiking as many food pantries have closed their doors due to a lack of volunteers.

From the organizations that make the news to the ones that don’t, there’s no doubt that the nonprofits serving our local communities are as much in need of help as ever. Here we’re shining a light on some of the organizations we work with around the globe.

Global snapshots and how we can all help

San Francisco

In San Francisco, where Zendesk is headquartered, nonprofits report dramatic community needs as they struggle to support vulnerable individuals whose situation has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Many nonprofits are teaming up, sharing resources and volunteers, and working to cover the gaps in care that their populations are experiencing.

Calder Lorenz, advocacy manager for St. Anthony’s SF, a nonprofit serving the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, noted how the pandemic has affected their services: “Over the same period last year (March 10, 2019 through June 30, 2019), we served an average of 2,144 meals per day. This year, we are serving an average of 2,818 meals per day. Hunger and food insecurity were tremendous, widespread problems before COVID-19, and we know that the pandemic itself, in addition to the economic devastation, has exacerbated food insecurity.”

Donate to St. Anthony’s SF here.

Great Britain

For over 130 years, West London Mission has worked to empower vulnerable individuals to transform their lives. At every step of this process, hunger and food poverty work against them. Many families West London Mission serves don’t have the cash to provide simple nutritious meals for themselves. Ironically, when it comes to paying the bills, food is considered a flexible budget item given that electricity, heating and other essentials must be paid on a regular basis.

“We see people who are at risk of food poverty every single day. People who are street homeless, families who visit our counselling centre, elderly isolated visitors to our Community hub at St. Luke’s. Residents in our centres are treated to the best possible nutritious meals as is right, but we are very concerned for the wellbeing of many of the people we come across,” said Patrick O’ Meara, on behalf of West London Mission.

[Related read: How the International Rescue Committee welcomes asylum seekers and refugees to the U.S.]

The current crisis is real, but not new. Explains O’Meara, “Every nonprofit organization worldwide serving the homeless or those living in poverty knows all too well the scale of the food insecurity problem. For while having shelter doesn’t guarantee food—far from it—not having shelter most often means not enough food as well.”

Donate to West London Mission here.

The Philippines

Jomar Fleras, executive director of Rise Against Hunger, an organization Zendesk began partnering with last year, explains how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted a country that was already in crisis with respect to food insecurity. Measures taken to reduce transmission, such as forced quarantines and asking vulnerable populations to stay home are complicating the situation, “leaving seniors and immunocompromised people relying on expensive and limited grocery delivery services.” Adds Fleras, “Disrupted supply chains and panic buying mean that food prices are higher than usual, reducing food access for vulnerable people.”

A survey that was conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in September 2020 showed that 30.7 percent, or over 7 million Filipino families, have experienced hunger at least once in the past three months, an increase from 20.9 percent in a July 2020 survey. In 2019, more than half or 64.1 percent of the total Filipino household were classified as food insecure. Since the start of the quarantine period in the country, March 16, 2020, up to September 2020, Rise Against Hunger has served a total of 51,000 families and received a total of 62.4 million worth of cash and in-kind donations.

Donate to Rise Against Hunger here.

Singapore

Food from the Heart is a community nonprofit that provides food for the needy. Since the onset of the pandemic, they’ve reported a sharp rise in people requesting assistance. Their teams have distributed more than 900,000 food items through various food programs from January to September 2020. The organization also reports a shift in their distribution model, from working with community partners to receiving direct requests via email or phone from individuals who had lost their job and had no money for food.

Donate to Food from the Heart here.

Melbourne

Not long after a global pandemic was declared, Bec Scott, CEO and co-founder of STREAT, assembled a collective of more than twenty Victoria-based not-for-profit organizations under the banner of Moving Feast. The group’s goal was to create a pandemic food response that creates justice, sustainability, and resilience.

Since the start of the pandemic, they have been growing, cooking, and delivering meals to the most vulnerable Victorians as part of the widespread food relief system. The organization is attempting to respond to estimates that predict that over 10 percent of the population will need emergency food assistance in the coming months—the equivalent of over 250,000 meals a week.

Donate to Moving Feast here.

We need creative means to connect food with families

Given the scope of the challenge, what are these organizations planning for the future? Most agree there will be a global reckoning, and hope it will lead to lasting innovations around food sustainability, sourcing, and distribution. As noted by West London Mission’s O’Meara, “The long-term solution needs to be greater and run deeper than providing food grants and vouchers, especially when so many food businesses lie idle in this second lockdown. There is something here about joining up resources and executing some connected creative thinking. The food exists side by side with the means of providing it side by side with millions of people who need help.”

[Related read: How Zendesk’s Tech for Good partners support refugees worldwide, and how you can help]

But until then, the need is growing, and this is unlikely to change until economic conditions improve and community safety nets are no longer needed by so many.

Those of us fortunate enough to have a job, especially one where we can work from home, shielded from much of the world during lockdowns, must stay engaged with our local communities and focused on the challenges faced by our fellow citizens.

Additional resources

Nonprofit organizations who are working to feed the hungry around the world need your donations now more than ever.

  • Action Against Hunger - Leading the global movement to end life-threatening hunger for good, treating and preventing malnutrition across more than 45 countries.
  • Feeding America - The largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S.
  • The Hunger Project - A global, non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.
  • Word Central Kitchen - Building food resilience programs to advance human and environmental health, offer access to professional culinary training, create jobs, and improve food security.
  • Rise Against Hunger - A global movement to end hunger by empowering communities, nourishing lives and responding to emergencies.