Resolve. Innovation. Compassion. The COVID-19 pandemic is testing us as an organization and as an entire community on many fronts. From my perspective, we are all rising to the challenge in unprecedented ways. As a food bank and pantry network, Second Harvest and our partners continue to make the bold adjustments and preparations needed to best support those who will depend on us in the weeks and months ahead. As a community, I am amazed at the speed at which our neighbors are coming together to support a growing population in need: The most vulnerable and the newly vulnerable.
Rewind to February. The fast-moving COVID-19 virus set off alarms at our food bank mid-month. With a close eye on the growing crisis, we quickly modified our group-oriented food delivery construct in anticipation of a potential mandate for school closures and physical distancing. We drew monies from our emergency reserves to purchase shelf-stable foods, then deployed a crisis plan—part of which included the cessation of volunteer operations at our food distribution center and a transition to a text-dispatched system for volunteers. We reached out to those in the hospitality industry who lost their jobs and subsequently hired three teams (40 people per team) to pack and prepare bags and boxes of food for distribution each week. Our portable Food Box Program now delivers more than 7,000 boxes of food per week to those most in need—seniors, at-risk children and individuals quarantined for health reasons who cannot leave home—through our Harvest Truck Brigade program, which engages volunteers delivering food and a little bit of hope with their own pickup trucks. When we called for their help, nearly 200 Brigade members answered.
Flash back to March 28. As I huddled with staff and volunteers outside the Honda Center in Anaheim at the Pop-Up Drive Thru food distribution we provided that morning, lines of cars were forming well before our 9 a.m. start time. I heard the remark, “There are lots of nice cars waiting in line for food.” This has been a common misperception of food insecurity for years and is even made more frequently now. The stereotypical picture of the hungry may look like the down and out or the homeless. The actual image of this COVID-19 reality is that hunger can reveal itself in the eyes of anyone. In addition to the working poor, we are serving the newly vulnerable residents of our communities who are severely impacted by economic losses caused by the spread of the virus. They are middle-class working families, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck in Southern California’s high cost-of-living economy. One catastrophic event, especially one with no clear end in sight, can send these families over the edge financially—particularly those who have not only lost their paychecks, but the peace of mind supplied by schools, which provide education, supervision and a reliable food source for their children.
Right now, the Pop-Up Drive Thru food distributions at the Honda Center that we created as part of our crisis plan are capable of providing supplemental food for up to 10,000 cars. This Pop-Up construct is intended to serve working poor families who relied on the 121 food distribution sites (which constitutes 20 percent of our pantry network) that were forced to close and to providea safety net for the newly vulnerable families who find themselves struggling in this crisis. This undertaking was no small feat from the start, and it has expanded each week. The City of Anaheim, the Anaheim Police Department, the Anaheim Fire & Rescue, the Honda Center and the Anaheim Ducks have been nothing short of exemplary in their accommodation of our distribution and the steadfast support of the residents of our community. The Honda Center has given us access to the essential space of its parking lots. City employees have shown up before dawn to help set up and organize food bags. Traffic experts, first responders, police officers and firefighters have been at the ready to keep the traffic flowing and growing crowds orderly and safe. Many of those City employees also hand out food.
I have been profoundly moved by the kindness and generosity shown by hundreds of volunteers, community partners and donors during this life-altering experience. I am deeply grateful to our community partners and pantry network for their commitment and focus to support all 34 Orange County cities during this time of great need.
As food-insecurity continues to rise, Second Harvest Food Bank is tasked with raising more than $340,000 per week in order to maintain three additional teams of employees (120 people), our Pop-Up Drive Thru food distributions, the door-to-door delivery program, and keep food flowing to our network of pantry partners that are managing to stay open.
To support Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County during #OperationFeedOC, visit FeedOC.org today, and thank you.
Harald Herrmann joined Second Harvest Food Bank in 2019 as CEO. Formerly with Mendocino Farms and past president of Darden’s Specialty Group (Seasons 52, Capital Grille and others), he brings unique business insights and a collaborative approach to solving hunger, which affects nearly 300,000 individuals and 1 in 6 children in Orange County.
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