Creative Solutions to Serve Millions Through COVID-19
FareStart and our Catalyst Kitchens members have served as a beacon of hope for communities across the country throughout the COVID-19 crisis over the last year, stepping up to support our most vulnerable neighbors. We have seen endless innovation and determination from our Catalyst Kitchens network, that have put it all on the line to serve their communities. As we recognize one year since the beginning of the pandemic, we want to shine a light on some of the hard work and creative solutions happening throughout our network to serve millions of meals and clients.
The volume of meals delivered by our Catalyst Kitchens members throughout the last year has been staggering. Throughout 2020, the membership network has served over 17 million meals collectively. Many members have made major changes to their production processes and team roles to accommodate for dramatic increases to their normal operations, sometimes double or triple what their kitchens were producing in 2019.
Creative Solutions to Food Distribution
To meet the mounting need and to stay safe through the pandemic, our members have gotten creative about their food delivery processes. Some members adopted a meal kit delivery model to mitigate long lines outside food banks and to increase food access. A Minneapolis-based member Appetite for Change delivered prepared meal kits straight to their clients full of nutritious ingredients and cooking instructions for preparation. This system increased access, provided fresh produce, and made meal preparation easy for families.
Throughout 2020, the membership network has served over 17 million meals collectively.
School closures at the start of the pandemic created some unseen challenges for the school meals providers in our network. Many families have relied on school-provided meals as a main source of food, so our members worked hard to find new solutions to feeding children learning from home. Many programs provided more items to families using their food banks to supplement missing school meals. As schools slowly invited students back into in-person teaching, Model Member DC Central Kitchen recently announced a new drive-up service offered at one of their schools where parents can pick up breakfast and lunch without getting out of the car.
If you can’t get to the food, our members will bring it to you. Food access is a major issue, even before the pandemic, and mobile food pantries are a great strategy for reaching marginalized communities in rural areas or urban food deserts. Member Santa Fe YouthWorks has taken food delivery into their own hands by outfitting a 28-foot food truck to circulate the community to distribute food boxes to remote communities and notify new clients about their free food distribution services. Similarly, this January Model Member Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida benefitted from a $500,000 grant and partnership with local restaurant group with a new refrigerated box truck to reach more in need through their mobile food pantry program.
When A Door Closes...
Outside of large-scale hunger relief efforts, our members also have been looking out for those displaced by unemployment and for their program graduates struggling with COVID-19 related business closures. Many organizations have hired past graduates to support their increased meal production, including FareStart and Model Member UMOM New Day Centers. UMOM employs eight of their youth program graduates in their production kitchens and has offered their alumni ongoing opportunities to receive counseling from their workforce development team. Since the beginning of the crisis, FareStart has temporarily hired over 2 dozen past graduates to work in their emergency meals kitchens to serve an average of over 6,000 meals daily to the Seattle area.
Bringing Culinary Training Back Online
Approximately six months into the pandemic, it seemed the world had found new ways to operate through online learning and remote connections. Our members were ready to get back to their mission of job training for their students. Our 2020 National Summit in September focused on bringing culinary training to virtual platforms with many members preparing to relaunch their training arms that fall. Virtual programs and hybrid models started throughout the network, including Telamon, Maryland Food Bank, and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Many revamped programs are focusing more heavily on transferrable soft skills, such as communication and time management, to help students apply to different industries given the lower demand in foodservice employment.
As more vaccines are distributed across the country, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of an extremely challenging time. It is likely that many of our members will continue to fight hunger relief needs in their communities for months to come. To all those who remain on the frontlines of this crisis, we thank you and applaud your ongoing dedication!