During this time of special precautions and unique needs amid the coronavirus pandemic, more stories are emerging, showing how Regions and its community partners are taking extra steps to serve. In our latest “Above and Beyond” feature, we highlight the work of the nation’s two largest food banks. Regions Bank is supporting both of these food banks – and many others – by donating advertising and providing online promotions, to raise awareness and help feed our neighbors in need.
Atlanta: Community Partnerships to Help Pack the Pantries
They stretch for miles.
Cars lined up at food distribution sites across the nation have become a more common sight in recent months.
But there’s something Atlanta Community Food Bank President and CEO Kyle Waide wants people to know about food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis.
“One of the story points has been that so many new people are food insecure during this time,” said Waide. “And there’s some truth to that in that it’s been indiscriminate in impact. But it’s also misleading, because in reality, the very community disproportionately experiencing hunger before – frontline workers, communities of color, single-parent households and low-income seniors – are being more greatly impacted by hunger during the pandemic as well.”
Waide and the team of 170 employees at the Atlanta Community Food Bank have seen a roughly 40 percent increase in the need for food assistance since pandemic began.
They’re currently distributing two million pounds of food each week, almost twice the amount they were at this time last year.
The Atlanta Community Food Bank has established strategic partnerships in its food distribution efforts. The nonprofit’s mobile outreach units are distributing food at 30 locations across its 29-county territory. One of the groups it’s partnering with is the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association following the furlough of thousands of hospitality workers.
“We’ve been especially focused on connectivity to this particularly impacted community,” said Waide.
They’ve also implemented changes such as enlisting support from the National Guard.
“We closed our facility to outside volunteers to reduce exposure risks,” he said. Waide and all staff have their temperature taken each morning when they arrive.
The ACFB has also transitioned to purchasing food rather than relying on donations as part of their new business model.
“Our expenses have increased nearly eight-fold each month,” said Waide.
He’s grateful donations have increased with those expenses.
“We’ve received an extraordinary amount of support from the community,” said Waide. “Words cannot express how much they’ve supported us. We’ve essentially done a year’s worth of fundraising in two months.”
He’s also grateful to Regions for the donation of broadcast and online advertising highlighting their efforts.
“No question it’s helped us in raising awareness that’s transitioned to dollars,” said Waide.
Still, he knows the road ahead will continue to present headwinds. He’s just not certain for how long.
“We’re anticipating ongoing challenges,” said Waide. “We’re working to build a cushion as we look ahead to the third and fourth quarter of the year.”
But today’s focus is on feeding as many people as possible.
Houston: A Creative, Can-Do Approach
Nearly 24 million Americans live in what the United States Department of Agriculture describes as a “food desert,” where at least one-third of residents must travel more than a mile to reach a supermarket.
With the pandemic resulting in millions of lost jobs, people who previously experienced food access challenges are now also experiencing food affordability challenges.
“We’ve experienced a 130 to 150 percent increase in demand from last year at this time to this year,” said Amy Ragan, Chief Development Officer of the Houston Food Bank, another of many food banks that received advertising support from Regions.
“This is a time where we’re seeing people who have never asked for food donations now having to,” added Paula McKenzie, Major Gifts Officer.
They include teachers with adult children who have moved back home. Construction workers laid off due to building projects halted. People who have never received an unemployment check in their career now seeking help.
The figures are staggering – even for the United States’ largest food bank, which is accustomed to serving many families across 18 counties. In the first eight weeks of its pandemic response, the Houston Food Bank distributed 36 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 900 tractor-trailers filled with food. Nearly 1.4 million pounds were distributed in one day alone, more than tripling the food bank’s previous daily average distribution.
Distributing one million-plus pounds of food in a day is something that’s never been done in our history.
Amy Ragan, Chief Development Officer of the Houston Food Bank
“The need is much greater and very different than after Hurricane Harvey,” said Ragan, reflecting on the Category 4 storm that struck Texas and Louisiana in 2017. “The long-term effects of this are ones we just don’t know yet.”
A highly contagious virus combined with significantly increased need have required innovation and adaptability.
“We basically had to develop a lot of alternative distribution models,” Ragan said as the food bank shifted to serving an average of 147,000 households per week. “We really had to change the way we respond.”
Those changes – and challenges – have included purchasing food to maintain inventory like their Houston counterparts.
“Normally, we rely on donations from our retail partners,” said McKenzie. “But our donations have been drastically reduced with supermarket shelves cleaned out by consumers.”
Price increases presented yet another challenge.
“It was hard at first because of all the panic buying,” said Ragan.
What else has changed at the Houston Food Bank? The staff and volunteer pools.
The food bank has hired 198 supplemental team members, who were furloughed from local restaurants and other nonprofits, to help address the increased need. You’ll also see a group of National Guard troops assisting with distribution similar to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Even the logistics of how food gets to people had to be changed.
“This is really just about being able to be nimble and creative,” said McKenzie. “As we consider safety concerns, the fewer people that have to be working inside the food bank right now, the better.”
“There are more lessons being learned than ever before,” added Ragan. “Distributing one million-plus pounds of food in a day is something that’s never been done in our history.”
Rising to the challenge. Meeting the need. And feeding hundreds of thousands of grateful Houstonians during this difficult time.