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Industry Rapid Response: Arkansas Foodbank

April 6, 2020

With COVID-19 impacting daily life in America at all levels, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is spotlighting the impact of and responses to the current pandemic through a series of Q&As with our partners.

Arkansas Food Bank

The Arkansas Foodbank, which serves 280,000 people yearly, is the largest hunger relief organization in the state. Since beginning its partnership with PHA in 2018, the Arkansas Foodbank has committed to evaluating and improving the nutritional quality of its inventory; incentivizing its partners to select more nutritious foods; and activating distribution environments that encourage the selection of better-for-you items.

Q&A: Emily Gassman, Communications Director, Arkansas Foodbank

What are the real-time impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on your organization, your operations, and your staff?

The Foodbank is at the front lines of this response. Over the past few weeks, lives have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Businesses have closed their doors, people have lost their jobs and their income, and schools have closed, leaving children without access to breakfast and lunch they desperately need. During this time, the Foodbank has seen the needs of children, seniors, and families in the communities we serve drastically increase. Currently, our response is centered around serving children through partnerships with schools and increasing the capacity of our partner agencies to meet the ever-growing demands in their communities.

We are also seeing a growing demand among families and seniors in need. With tens of thousands of Arkansans recently filing for unemployment, the demand for food at our 322 partner agencies has drastically increased.

How are you managing to maintain continuity of services/business/impact during this time of uncertainty?

We rely heavily on our volunteer program, but to do our part to help flatten the curve, we have closed our volunteer shifts to the public. We are working safely with small groups of disaster response volunteers to continue to process and pack food to go out to our agencies. These volunteers are helping us pack emergency boxes filled with food to go out to school districts and our agencies, which get the food out to those who need it. Our partner agencies are also making adjustments and most have switched to operating drive-through distributions to maintain safe social distancing standards.

The Foodbank is currently utilizing every resource we have to make sure that those in need are cared for and have the supplies they desperately need.

What role do you see your sector needing to play during this time of national crisis?

Foodbanks all over the US are considered essential businesses right now and are working hard to make sure everyone has access to the most basic of needs at this time: food. Even as communities are sheltering in place and non-essential businesses have closed, this is the time that food banks are stepping up to serve those who are impacted by school closings, drastic cutbacks in hours worked, and even unemployment. Arkansas already ranks second in the nation for hunger, and this drastic impact on the economy in our communities means that we will see a significant increase in those needing food – and we’re on the front lines, ready to serve.

What advice does your organization have for Americans trying to keep healthy during the coronavirus pandemic?

Right now our main focus is keeping our employees, partner agencies, and clients safe and healthy. We’ve closed our volunteer center to the general public, we’re working with our partners to adapt to new models of food distribution to clients, and we’re working with our staff to ensure we’re taking all the necessary precautions. We’re also sharing tips on our blog about how to keep your fresh produce safe at this time and other helpful information on food safety.

For those that want to assist your organization right now, what direction are you giving and what needs do you have?

We need the help of our communities now more than ever. The Foodbank is currently utilizing every resource we have to make sure that those in need are cared for and have the supplies they desperately need. Making a monetary donation at arkansasfoodbank.org will help us continue to fill the shelves in our warehouse to ensure children, families, and seniors have access to the most basic of necessities during this critical time.