The World Food Program was honored with the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to fight world hunger amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Second Harvest workers and volunteers are essential workers who have had to adjust to serving more people with fewer resources during this pandemic.
- Nancy Keil is President & CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.
For the last several years, approximately 1 in 8 of our Middle Tennessee neighbors, including 1 in 6 children, faced food insecurity, meaning they simply did not know where their next meal would come from. Today because of the pandemic, those numbers are 1 in 5.
But behind those numbers are people — our friends and neighbors who are facing unimaginable stress and strain due to the current pandemic. From those who have been furloughed from work through no fault of their own; from the underemployed hit by drastic salary cuts; and, to the children who do not have access to nutritious meals because they’re remotely learning from home, these are difficult times.
Here in Middle Tennessee, we have faced not only the pandemic, but the March 3 tornado that devastated so many of our communities. From that day until now, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee has been on the front lines assisting our communities.
There were fewer donations and volunteers, but much more demand for food
On that fateful March day, Nashville and surrounding areas awoke to the aftermath of devastating and deadly tornadoes. Hours later, Second Harvest’s incredible volunteers and staff were preparing disaster boxes and meals to be distributed across the affected communities.
A few days later, the impact of the COVID -9 pandemic was felt immediately. As first responders, the Second Harvest staff worked around the clock to assure that food was provided to those in need as safely and as quickly as possible. Food donations from grocery partners dropped by 30% while the need for our services was increasing by 50%. Our volunteer capacity was cut by 90% as COVID safety limitations reduced our volunteers from 100 to just 10 people per shift.
Our nearly 500 partner agencies were forced to adjust their operations to provide groceries to clients with no contact, taking away their ability to provide both choice in their food and friendly conversation. We quickly implemented some unconventional strategies — like Drive-thru Distributions and unique partnerships — to ensure safety and access to meals could continue in our neediest communities.
Hear more Tennessee Voices: Get the weekly opinion newsletter for insightful and thought provoking columns.
We have quickly gone from distributing around 700,000 pounds of food per week to now well over 1 million pounds. We have distributed more than 21 million meals, including 110,000 emergency and produce boxes. Whether through our partnerships with Metro Nashville Public Schools, Chef Sean Brock and his friends in Nashville’s restaurant industry or Conexión América, our single focus has been on feeding those in need with nutritious meals.
We have not done it alone, and the battle is far from over.
We need your help to keep serving the community
September was Hunger Action Month, which was designed to inspire communities across the United States to act against and raise awareness for the nation’s 54 million individuals estimated to be food insecure in 2020. It is an opportunity to not only shine a light on the tremendous need, but to also ask our friends and neighbors to get involved in the effort.
Nancy Keil (Photo: )
And that is what I am asking today.
The generosity of the Middle Tennessee community with their huge financial support has been inspiring. The long hours our many volunteers have put in sorting and packing food has been nothing short of remarkable. Through our strategic plan and robust distribution system, we have put in place the necessary tools to help get us all through this pandemic while no one should go hungry.
We hope others will join us in this fight against hunger, whether through financial donations, volunteering in the new social distancing shifts we have available or participating in the virtual events we have planned throughout the month.
My parents often told me to “look beyond the numbers,” past the sterile statistics and focus on what they really represent – people just like you and me. We hope you will do just that.
Nancy Keil is President & CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. To learn more, please visit secondharvestmidtn.org.
Read or Share this story: https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2020/10/09/second-harvest-food-bank-growing-hunger/5937048002/