From Response to Recovery
An update on the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 1
An Unexpected Year
2020 showed us just how fragile food security can be. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, national food insecurity levels were the lowest they had been in 20 years. The Foodbank was entering the final year of its strategic plan and was closer than ever to meeting the Meal Gap.
The Meal Gap is the difference between how many meals are needed to provide food security in the region and how many meals the Foodbank and its network are able to provide.
As the pandemic set in, more families than ever turned to local food pantries, many for the first time.
Families lost wages and businesses shuttered. Essential workers and work-from-home households struggled with childcare, healthcare, educating their children and managing budgets. As these stressors weighed heavily on our society, the strength of the Foodbank’s network was tested and our faithful supporters responded like no other time in the Foodbank’s nearly 40‑year history.
“It is the duty and the mission of the Foodbank to continue its emergency response and recovery efforts to confront the challenges ahead.“
President & CEO
Responding to a Pandemic
The Foodbank and our network of hunger-relief partners have been critical in the community’s crisis response to COVID-19, distributing more food than ever before to meet the need.
The Foodbank wanted to ensure that hunger did not become another symptom of the pandemic.
Thanks to additional government commodities and a strong national and local response, the Foodbank was able to provide access to 27.4 million meals, a volume of food distribution not planned or expected for another 5 years.
In 2020, because of your support, your Foodbank:
- Distributed more than $43 million worth of food to keep pace with the growing demand.
- Increased the frequency of our drive-thru food distributions, serving nearly 22,000 families with enough food to help provide 1.8 million meals — a 207 percent increase from the previous year.
- Made more than 12,000 deliveries directly to home-bound families and seniors in need through a partnership with DoorDash, United Way of Summit & Medina and CARE, the Cooperative Assistance & Relief Everywhere, Inc.
- Distributed nearly $2.2 million in capacity-building resources to hunger-relief programs for items like freezers, coolers, shelving and transportation — nearly a 120 percent increase from the previous year.
- Delivered food orders directly to hunger-relief partners and assisted at our network’s food distributions. Members of the Ohio National Guard were instrumental in these efforts, making over 800 deliveries, packing emergency food boxes and assisting in the warehouse.
Challenges & Uncertainties
Our region has seen an estimated 31 percent increase in the number of people facing food insecurity.
Current projections indicate that the Foodbank’s heightened response will need to continue as the recovery of local families will likely take years. The challenges and uncertainties we face in 2021 are many.
Lack of donated government food
An estimated 7 million pounds of special emergency food commodities from the USDA and other government sources will likely not be replicated in 2021.
Limited Storage Capacity
To meet the estimated demand in 2021, the Foodbank is prepared to provide as many as 29 million meals (an increase of 2 million meals over 2020), requiring the rental of additional warehouse space and cold food storage until the new Stark County Campus opens in the third quarter.
Reduction of emergency resources
Ohio National Guard members who assisted in picking and distributing more than 11.4 million pounds of food in 2020 will slowly begin to depart leaving staff short‑handed.
Limited volunteer capacity
Continued social distancing measures limit the capacity of volunteers and staff in the warehouse and at distributions.
Strained network of partner agencies
Operated mostly by volunteers, our network is committed and has adapted to continue serving more people. However, many feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the physical and emotional demands of serving so many additional people. Some partners closed temporarily; others have closed indefinitely because of the pandemic.
The volatile economy
Food insecure families are struggling with multiple economic concerns, and they fear their issues will not subside as quickly as the immediate public health crisis. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Ohio household food security did not recover to pre-recession levels for an entire decade.
The Road to Recovery
In 2021, the Foodbank will enact a bold plan to support the short- and long-term food security needs of the region.
2020 was a year of significant generosity from the community, and, despite additional expenses related to our crisis response, the Foodbank is positioned to extend significant support to our strained hunger-relief network based on their input about where the greatest needs exist.
All shared fees will be waived for the remainder of 2021.
The Foodbank and its partners have always shared the cost of procuring, storing and distributing food to the community, with the Foodbank taking on the majority of these expenses. This partnership has always sustained our work. But because of the community’s generosity in 2020, we are waiving these fees, allowing partners to invest in their capacity and other resources to better serve our community, which is essential as we slowly move from response to recovery.
The Foodbank hired a staff person and purchased a refrigerated truck to make food deliveries directly to hunger-relief partners, replicating the services offered by the National Guard. This will save partners valuable time and resources.
The Foodbank purchased a vehicle to serve as a mobile pop-up pantry, providing food access to neighborhoods with limited food resources.
The Foodbank will continue to bring food to food insecure households through our partnership with DoorDash, United Way of Summit & Medina and CARE, the Cooperative Assistance & Relief Everywhere, Inc.
An increased number of drive-thru grocery distributions will continue at the Foodbank’s warehouse and throughout the community.
Partnerships with local health systems will highlight the relationship between hunger and health, recognizing that access to healthy food is a social determinant of health outcomes.
A brand new 40,000 square foot Stark County Campus will open in Canton which will include an onsite food pantry where we can pilot new food security initiatives and engage the broader community.
Details on additional investments for long-term initiatives beyond 2021 are pending.
We envision a thriving community free of hunger.
Thank you for being there with us every step of the way. We couldn’t do this important work without you!
Our Mission is to lead a collaborative network that empowers people to experience healthy and hunger-free lives. We distribute food to feed people, and we advocate, engage and convene our community in the fight to end hunger.
Compassion: Acting with kindness, grace and a willingness to help
Collaboration: Working together to leverage the wisdom of collective thinking
Service: Striving to exceed expectations
Integrity: Pursuing ethical, credible and honorable conduct
Inclusion: Creating an environment where all people feel safe, welcomed, respected and valued
Innovation: Embracing creativity, risk and an openness to being different
We still need your support!
We will continue to call upon your support to meet the increased needs of the many children, families and seniors facing hunger, while balancing the burden of rising expenses. With your help, we believe we can be a catalyst within the hunger-relief network and emerge from this crisis stronger and even better positioned to meet the evolving needs of our community.