This time last year, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in the U.S. and Filling in the Blanks held our first emergency food drive. We shared a call for donations and shelf stable food, and our community acted fast to help. At the time, we never could have anticipated the devastating, long-term impact that the pandemic would have.
Hunger rates skyrocketed in 2020 and haven't recovered yet. Filling in the Blanks is proud to be part of the solution to help feed local kids and families in need, but to keep up with the rapidly rising demand for food during the pandemic, we had to find creative solutions to quickly expand our Weekend Meal Program.
To give perspective on hunger rates in America, according to Feeding America, in the last 3 months, 73% of food pantry clients had to choose between food or paying utility bills, and 63% had to choose between food or paying for rent. These choices are unimaginably difficult to make, especially for parents. Nationally, hunger remains a serious issue, and hunger has hit home in Connecticut too. Locally in Fairfield County, one of our main delivery sites, food insecurity has increased by 67%, and the number of children living in food-insecure households has grown to one in four.
In your social circle of friends, family, and coworkers, it’s likely that you know someone impacted by food insecurity. We surveyed families who receive our Weekend Meal Bags, and 70% of them reported an increased need for food since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many families are experiencing hunger for the very first time, and we are working hard to make sure that they have access to food as they navigate this new normal.
During the pandemic, Filling in the Blanks developed creative and innovative delivery methods to reach children in need. When school schedules were disrupted by the switch to online learning, we utilized grab n’go sites and bus routes. To reach children who couldn’t get a ride to school, we delivered to community centers, food pantries, and even delivered meals to their front door. Our Weekend Meal Program expanded to delivering three days per week, and delivered to seniors and grandparents caring for young children. Since March 2020 we added 19 new locations and two new school districts to our delivery route, and Weekend Meals were delivered for seven additional weeks.
These expansions didn’t come without their challenges. To run the Weekend Meal Program, Filling in the Blanks relies on hundreds of volunteers each year. Due to health and safety concerns, we have not been able to work with volunteers in the same way. To keep our staff, volunteers, and the warehouse safe, the number of people allowed indoors is limited. We are not able to host large public packing events to get meal bags assembled. As a result, our small volunteer leadership team and part-time staff worked overtime to run the program.
In addition to fewer helping hands, shelf-stable food costs increased over 45%. With increased need in the community, the food supply was often low. In order to increase the variety and nutritional value of the three menus delivered while also keeping costs within the budget, we have been working with a handful of vendors to get meal items donated, while allocating funds to new, healthier items.
Filling in the Blanks has also had an interruption to our regular fundraising, as in-person events had to be canceled or postponed. We have relied on donations made through our website or by mail, and have created new virtual events to engage with our community.
Looking back at these challenges, we’re so proud of what Filling in the Blanks has accomplished. Despite the obstacles, we have been able to expand our program and get meals to children and families in need the same week they sign up.
We’re looking forward to what’s in store for 2021 as the country moves towards recovery. Filling in the Blanks will continue to create food security for more children in our local community by expanding to new sites and enrolling more kids into the Weekend Meal Program, but we can’t accomplish these goals without your support.
Will you help us increase awareness of the need locally and empower others to be a part of the solution? There are a few things you can do right now. Share this post with a friend, join our newsletter for updates on volunteer opportunities and events, and consider making a donation or hosting a food drive.