The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the already dire problem of hunger in America. Prior to 2020, approximately 35 million Americans experienced food insecurity each year, but new research from the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University found that one in four individuals across America now face hunger.
In response to this crisis, FedEx quickly ramped up its longtime support of local food banks across the country last spring, creating a lifeline for hungry people in key cities of operation. Through its FedEx Cares 50 by 50 campaign, FedEx has organized food drives and provided charitable grants and in-kind shipments to ensure shelves stay stocked month over month. As a result, the company has helped meet the needs of more than 2.9 million individuals across the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, while taking worry off the plates of 4.6 million people total since the campaign launched in 2019.
Fighting food insecurity in a state with one of the highest rates of hunger
For its eleventh consecutive year, Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2019 study found California has one of the highest rates of food insecurity across the country, second only to Texas. In Alameda County, that number made up as much as 20% of the population, with the expectation that number will grow an additional 3% because of the pandemic.
Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) has served residents of the San Francisco Bay area since 1985, distributing approximately 34 million pounds of food in the year prior to the pandemic. Due to the expanding needs of the county, however, ACCFB provided 6 million pounds of food in March 2020 alone and expects to distribute 53 million pounds between June 2020 and June 2021.
“We went from serving about one in five county residents to one in four during the pandemic,” said Suzan Bateson, executive director of ACCFB. “When the community need exploded, our need for support exploded, and FedEx came along with us.”
FedEx has worked with ACCFB for nearly 20 years, helping supply the food bank — which sits just three miles north of the FedEx Express Oakland Hub — with resources to alleviate hunger in the area. The company even played a pivotal role in establishing ACCFB’s children’s food program in 2005. This year, at the outset of the pandemic, FedEx donated $75,000 to the food bank to support local families in the difficult months ahead. And while this grant is part of the more than $500,000 in consistent funding FedEx has provided ACCFB over the last two decades, Bateson acknowledges that the personal investment FedEx has made supporting the local food bank carries just as much value.
“FedEx team members have a long history of volunteering with us—they're part of our family, our personal connection is deep and strong, and I think that speaks to the character of the people that FedEx has working for them,” Bateson said. “I remember there used to be a driver who would pick up and deliver food FedEx funded to a school in Oakland—he was so happy to load up his FedEx truck and take it there because he had gone to that school and had a personal connection to the work.”
For areas with rising rural hunger, couriers can play a first line of defense
Halfway across the country in Tulsa County, Okla., the food insecurity rate similarly grew nearly 3% between 2019 and 2020—a phenomenon plain as day to FedEx driver Steve Warner. As a courier in more rural parts of Tulsa, Warner repeatedly encountered hungry neighbors on his delivery route, inspiring him to act.
In 2020, Warner championed a food drive at his local FedEx warehouse, replicating a team initiative typically reserved for the holiday season to meet an immediate need. “I knew we had done food drives in the past, so I went to the managers to see if there was anything we could do, and before I knew it, they had it going on,” Warner said. “We set a box out and it was full within days—it didn’t take long at all.”
Warner and his colleagues supplied a pallet of dry goods to the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, supporting members of the community where schools and businesses had closed.
Hunger is a solvable problem when we all pitch in
While it appears food insecurity levels peaked nationally in December, according to U.S. Census Bureau, experts like Bateson believe many communities will be navigating the long-term effects for years to come.
“The pandemic has changed us forever—we are seeing a decrease in numbers, but we're still distributing enough food to help 75,000 people daily, so the need is still quite profound,” Bateson said. “There's never been an equitable recovery from a crisis like this, and if the last recession is any indication, we’re likely going to be serving COVID-related need for the next decade.”
Pandemic-safe, in-person volunteering has returned at many food banks across the country, including ACCFB, but Bateson explained that there are many other ways to individuals can personally get involved to combat hunger. In addition to monetary donations, she recommends engaging with food banks’ advocacy work with local legislators because she believes more voices will help move toward permanent changes.
“It’s really important for us all to think about how we can help and solve this problem of hunger, because it is a solvable problem.”
All photos with the exception of the FedEx courier are from