Food bank drive-through distribution during COVID-19
A reflective essay
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented surge in food insecurity and demand for free food. In response, Foodshare, the regional food bank serving Greater Hartford, Connecticut, created a drive-through distribution program to meet the immediate food needs of residents. Our team at Foodshare’s Institute for Hunger Research & Solutions conducted two surveys of people receiving food at the drive-through distribution to help inform Foodshare’s programming and response to the pandemic. Results show that 70% of households receiving food had never gone to a food pantry or other program to receive free food prior to COVID-19, and 67% said they come at least once a week. Additionally, 86% of guests are not going elsewhere to receive free food and only 37% know of other places to get free food. The majority of people receiving food at the drive-through distribution were people of color, who are those most affected by COVID-19 from both health and financial perspectives. From April to August 2020, Foodshare served an average of 1,500 households each day and more than 150,000 cars total at the drive-through distribution alone. Despite serving an immediate need for food, the drive-through model presents challenges, particularly during the New England winter with snow and freezing temperatures, and is an expensive endeavor. Foodshare and other food banks will need to pivot again from short-term pandemic assistance to longer-term approaches to create dignified, convenient, and sustainable access to healthy food for additional people struggling with food insecurity. Food banks can also leverage their extensive platforms of volunteers and donors to advocate for policy changes that will ensure economic stability and food security.
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