In “normal” times, more than 10% of United States households struggle with food insecurity (1). In 2020, as businesses closed and gig economy and other service jobs evaporated, those numbers escalated. By November, an estimated 23% of families — and 29.5% of families with children — had either been unable to acquire enough food or were uncertain of the source of their next meal (2). Studies show that from March through June, four in ten people who visited food banks were there for the first time (3). This is particularly true for Black and Hispanic households with children, who were nearly twice as likely to be struggling to afford food (4,5), as white families (6). Children from low-income families, many of whom rely on school breakfasts and lunches, are now learning remotely, further intensifying the issue.
Although SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) grew by 17% between February 2020 and May 2020, it has not met the nation’s needs. Fortunately, a raft of nonprofits has stepped into the breech. Adding to a robust emergency feeding network, they include restaurants, volunteer groups — and schools. Many are long-time BlueHub borrowers, organizations that do the inspiring community work we have applauded for decades.
When lockdowns were first announced, the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), home to a large array of BlueHub Energy solar panels, set clear priorities: keep their doors open and healthy food available. As GBFB President and CEO Catherine D’Amato observed, “We’ve never seen such a rapid surge in food insecurity” (7). Over the course of the year, the organization increased food distribution by 250%, from a million pounds of food a week to 2.5 million pounds, while overcoming the logistical challenges of social distancing, limited supply of personal protective equipment, and a decline in volunteer participation.
BlueHub borrower Farm Fresh Rhode Island also amped up its food distribution through multiple innovative programs. One that stands out: As a USDA “Farmers to Families Food Box program” grant recipient, they packed more than 1,000 boxes a week last summer with local produce, dairy and meat and delivered them to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for distribution to thousands of food-insecure Rhode Islanders.
For more than 50 years, stalwart BlueHub borrower Haley House has supported extremely low-income and housing insecure families with low-cost housing, nourishing food, support services, and employment. While the pandemic has caused painful shifts in the way their community gathers, it has increased the urgency of their efforts. Between March and November, the 11 members of the Haley House Live-in Community, an intentional community dedicated to realizing the Haley House mission, supplied low-income Boston residents with 33,073 meals and 5,042 bags of groceries, one of three programs the organization is running to provide sustenance to food-insecure people during the pandemic.
And families with now-homebound students? As described in the following pages, schools have taken markedly innovative approaches to ensuring that even when school is remote, breakfast, lunch, and snack are still on the table. And students are still learning.