The morning of March 11th, 2020 started like any other morning until news of pandemic school closures hit the airwaves around the country. Information was rapidly changing moment to moment and no one knew what to expect next. For us at Filling in the Blanks, we immediately got to work thinking through how these closures would impact the children we serve through our Weekend Meal Bag program. We never anticipated what 2020 had in store for us, and looking back at this moment, we were seeing the first heartbreaking surge in food insecurity that would sustain and grow throughout 2020.
The students we serve through our Weekend Meal Bag program receive two thirds of their nutrition from school-provided breakfast and lunch programs. The majority of our kids live in low-income households where parents are already struggling to choose between the bare necessities; a roof over their head, medical attention, or food on the table. The pandemic resulted in even more local children facing food insecurity, many of them for the very first time, as their families faced record unemployment rates.
We knew that it was more important than ever that FITB keep up with this sharply rising demand so we could prevent as many children as possible from going hungry. The pandemic created many logistical challenges but our small and mighty group of employees and volunteers were up for the task.
Filling in the Blanks met our surrounding communities' needs by expanding our Weekend Meal Bag program to weekdays. We were able to enroll over 1,000 new children in the program and grew our distribution to reach 60 new sites and additional towns in Bedford Hills, NY, Greenwich, Norwalk, New Canaan, Stamford, and Westport. We overcame limitations with in-person meal pickup by partnering with schools and community centers to set up drive-through food pickup hours, and volunteers even delivered food to the front doors of those who were isolating at home.
While we really wish that 2020 wasn’t our biggest year yet with record numbers of children in need of food, we were inspired to see our community come together to support these kids.
Thanks to the help of our partners, supporters and volunteers, we delivered our millionth meal since our inception in 2013 (six months earlier than we anticipated), and provided over 500,000 meals in 2020 alone. We saw the overall need for meals increase in Norwalk, Stamford, and Greenwich, and added new students to the program in New Canaan and Westport. Some schools even received meal bags three times per week, and we were able to increase our delivery service annually by seven weeks since the school and summer calendars were disrupted.
Over the past year, things have drastically changed for millions of Americans and people worldwide, especially children. Food insecurity rates have sharply risen, and 400,000 people are food insecure, 117,000 of them children according to Feeding America. Today 1 in 4 children live in food-insecure households as many people found themselves going hungry for the first time.
As the growing unemployment numbers rise, and more people are in need of food assistance, we will continue to be here to help. If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that our grassroots community can handle any challenge that life throws at us. We’re optimistic that in 2021 we will build towards a new normal, but we will never forget the power that our community has.
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