AbbVie to Support Food Banks: The Pandemic’s Other Health Crisis

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Unemployment, hunger, loss … and food banks ready to help

Many Americans are facing hunger amid severe job layoffs. AbbVie is proud to support food banks, who are providing more than 10,000 meals per minute. An 18-year-old who was newly homeless and didn’t know which way to turn.

An elderly man who was out of groceries and considering eating his cat’s food.

A single mother of two young children who had been running a gym, until COVID-19 shut her business down.

These are just a few people who recently have turned to the Feeding America® network of 200 food banks for help.

Food banks have been scrambling to support people who are newly unemployed and are struggling to find work due to COVID-19 layoffs. Across the U.S., food banks have reported a 40 to 70 percent spike in the need for food assistance – an unprecedented demand in their roughly 50-year existence. And with economists predicting a multi-year recovery, the need for food assistance is expected to continue to grow.

“Our network has so many new patrons who are newly unemployed and depleted their savings very quickly,” says Katie Fitzgerald, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Feeding America. “They don’t know how or when things are going to improve.”

To help ease the strain, AbbVie recently made a donation to Feeding America as part of a $35M commitment due to COVID-19. As the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, Feeding America’s network includes 200 food banks that feed more than 40 million people per year through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other community-based agencies.

In 2019, the Feeding America network distributed more than 3.6 billion meals to people in need – the equivalent of nearly 7,000 meals per minute.

A “triple whammy” for charitable food service

Fitzgerald says food banks have taken three heavy hits simultaneously:

  • A surge in demand
  • A drop in food donations due to disruptions in the food supply chain
  • A challenge to food banks’ and pantries’ model for distributing food

Social distancing needs have created new challenges for food banks’ operations. For example, volunteer centers have closed, so some food banks now pay staff to pack boxes. Other new expenses include extra warehouse workers, cleaning supplies and truck rentals to deliver food to homebound patrons.

Food banks are finding creative ways to keep up with demand, Fitzgerald says. Teams are spending long days finding new sources of food from public and private sources.

“Our food banks are incredibly grateful for the financial aid we’re able to give them,” Fitzgerald says. “They say they’ve never felt more supported by Feeding America and its supporters.”

Working double-time to get food to fearful families

For middle school administrator Mahntie Reeves, food assistance is literally saving his students’ lives. Reeves is the academic dean at Sul Ross Middle School in San Antonio, Texas. In his school, 86% of the students are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school already was distributing food boxes monthly at food pantries for children and their families. When the COVID-19 crisis closed his school in March, the San Antonio Food Bank helped Reeves increase that cadence to weekly.

“We probably have between 160 and 200 families come to our drive-through distribution every week,” he says. That’s in addition to the same number who pick up a bagged breakfast and lunch five days a week, provided by the school district.

“People will ask, ‘Are you going to be here tomorrow?’” he says. “They’re definitely worried. Parents are facing hardship and job losses.”

That’s a familiar story to Jeannine Kannegiesser, director of corporate and foundation giving at Northern Illinois Food Bank. She remembers a Pop-Up Market (a temporary food distribution site in a parking lot) that drew more than 2,500 people over just a few hours recently.

“Looking into the eyes of the moms and dads, with their little kids in the back seat waiting for food, you couldn’t help but be moved,” she says. “People were so grateful and so patient.”

Based in North Chicago, AbbVie has partnered with Northern Illinois Food Bank for seven years, sending food, funds and volunteers for special events like the Food Bank’s “Foodie 5K” charity run.

“We believe deeply in giving back to our community, and that’s never been more important than it is right now,” says Melissa Walsh, vice president, corporate responsibility and global philanthropy at AbbVie.

“For so many people, the pandemic’s effects will be long-lasting and stressful,” she says. “We hope our partnership with Feeding America and its network of food banks can help ease some of the strain and help people as they recover.”

Food measured by the pallet and truckload

The pandemic’s effects have reached into all parts of America, both rural and urban. At The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), workers are filling a 117,000-square-foot warehouse to capacity with food bought because of financial donations.

The warehouse is on pace to distribute 100 million pounds this year, twice the amount it’s designed for, says Arlene Fortunato, senior vice president, GBFB.

“We are doing our best to keep pace with the growing demand,” Fortunato says. “We’ve had 200 to 300 pallets of food a day coming in, and just as much, if not more, going out.” Those pallets are distributed to 530 partner agencies in eastern Massachusetts, including food pantries and soup kitchens.

Fortunato says she’s very grateful for donations like AbbVie’s, which help families struggling to get back on their feet: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received, and it’s so imperative right now.”

She continued, “We can’t solve the economic devastation, but we can fill this gap for people. So, we can help reduce their fear and anxiety. That’s a good feeling.”


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