Hunger relief organizations saw a lot of need when the pandemic hit. Many are now working in ways they never worked before, with more advocacy work and help for the root causes of hunger.
At Metro Caring, volunteers pack up red bags filled with fresh food for those who need it.
“We work to meet people's immediate need for nutritious food,” said Sheena Kadi, the Director of Strategy at Metro Caring.
They serve nearly 7,000 families a month, up from 2,000 before the pandemic, both through drive-up and walk-up areas around the building.
“We didn't know how long the pandemic was going to last, however, we did know there was going to be an economic crisis following the pandemic as well,” Kadi said.
While the need for food is great, Kadi said they saw an even creator need.
“Food is a human right, and if we truly saw ourselves as an anti-hunger organization, that we also needed to be looking at what some of those root causes of hunger were,” she said.
Not just the causes behind food insecurity, but also the questions people had as life was changing around them.
“We saw ourselves playing the role of a trusted messenger,” she said.
They answered questions on several topics, from vaccines to housing.
“Lots of questions around can my landlord evict me, can they not,” she explained.
Metro Caring is not alone. A recent study from the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center shows 30% of hunger relief organizations were open with additional services. The survey also found that organizations planned to spend more time on advocacy work and helping clients get food assistance, compared to pre-pandemic.
“Nationally. a lot of organizations, even larger food banks, did start these types of grant programs where they wanted to support more community-driven solutions. They wanted to look at how do we get the right resources into the right places,” Ellie Agar with Hunger Free Colorado said.
They operate a hotline to connect people with food resources in their area. She said she’s seen more awareness about the issues behind food insecurity.
“A lot of people are actually more aware of the underlying kind of root causes of hunger due to the pandemic,” Agar said. “Especially with really high unemployment, people are realizing that sometimes hunger is something you experience but it's outside your control. So knowing that and being able to address some of these other issues we’re seeing, I think, people are much more aware of these really systemic and maybe societal causes people might be experiencing.”
The social justice movements we saw across the world last year, food banks and other anti-hunger organizations were in tune with that, too.
“When we saw ourselves also in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movements during the pandemic, again we were seen as a trusted messenger in our community,” Kadi said.
The study showed 50% of food banks shifted to address racial inequities.
“We were also more intentional in looking at what are the ways racism and white supremacy shows up in organizations like ours, and we took that to heart,” she said.
Moving forward, food banks are playing a bigger role, focusing more on helping their community members tackle the root causes of hunger.
“There are going to be families who spend the next several years simply trying to get back on their feet,” Kadi said.
And they're making sure others understand that those who are hungry are people too.
“Every single person behind those statistics is a real person who's stressed out about how they’re going to make rent, about how they’re going to put food on the table for their families,” she said.