How Feed the Children Is Addressing Food Insecurity Amidst the Pandemic
The number of people suffering from food insecurity continues to rise due to current social issues impacting our communities. This is especially true for households with young children. In fact, current research reveals that more than 17% of young children in the U.S. lack sufficient food — a rate three times higher than during the worst of the Great Recession.
That said, the escalating food crisis young children are facing today is alarming and calls for resourcefulness and resilience.
Food Insecurity Among Children Has Immediate and Long-Term Implications
Without adequate food and nutrition, children are unable to reach their full development potential both physically and mentally. Research shows that children living in food-insecure households are at greater odds of fair or poor health, are more likely to be hospitalized in early childhood and may experience behavioral issues that interfere with schooling.
Furthermore, children dealing with food insecurity are dealing with nutritional deprivation and are at higher risk of certain chronic diseases.
Public and Private Partnerships Address Issues
Through its partnership with Feed the Children, a nonprofit organization with a shared goal to defeat hunger worldwide, Herbalife Nutrition is providing funding and resources to ensure people have access to good nutrition.
There is an urgent need for other organizations to act now to ensure children and youth, regardless of income, race or ethnicity, are not going without the food they need to thrive, learn and grow.
It is critical that policy play a role, too. As the pandemic has left too many children hungry, public policy organizations, like the Brookings Institute, are recommending that policymakers act to protect the health and well-being of the American people, especially children.
I sat down with Erik Cooke, head of government relations and government business development at Feed the Children, to discuss what can be done to help families better manage with food insecurity during this ongoing crisis.
Are there steps families can take to better handle this devastating hardship of food insecurity?
Cooke: In normal times, the most vulnerable of us rely on school meals and food assistance programs to survive. The pandemic has created a new population of people needing help. Those living paycheck to paycheck or who have experienced an unexpected job loss may not have savings or support systems to help them. It is urgent that we do not let our neighbors down when they need us the most. There are organizations in every community who are working to provide food and essentials so that they are available to families who need it.
Families facing hardship should check to see if they are eligible for any of the food and nutrition assistance programs available through the Federal Government. Additional information about federal programs and how to receive assistance locally is available at here.
I would encourage families to contact organizations in their communities who are providing support. Most schools have continued their meal programs during the crisis and will continue to serve meals through the summer to children 18 and younger. Families can find sites near them by visiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. At Feed the Children, we plan to continue to supply our community partners with the bulk food and essentials products they need to continue their food assistance programs.
Has Feed the Children’s goals/actions for responding to the rising needs over the past few months changed as our economy and levels of unemployment have adjusted?
Cooke: Feed the Children is adapting to the situation in real-time. We continue to fight for regular and emergency funding to support families, including their food and nutrition needs. We understand that families who may have never had to worry about their livelihoods before are dealing with a loss of income. Unemployment numbers have skyrocketed, as well as the numbers of our food insecure population.
Across the U.S., we have expanded our community partnerships, working with hundreds of organizations, such as food pantries, soup kitchens and churches. In fact, since the pandemic hit, we’ve been receiving applications from organizations across the U.S. who want to join our community partner network. The organizations we’re working with have delivered food and daily household essentials in a variety of ways, including going door-to-door, holding drive-through events and some even had call-in numbers for individuals to request these items. The amazing thing is that everyone realizes that we’re all in this together, and the outpouring of support and cooperation is unprecedented. Our partners in the corporate sector and nonprofit sector have stepped up to the plate to help us try to meet the needs of the families we serve.
One of the areas where there has been incredible movement is in the commercial food supply chain. With restaurants closed, many farmers have had the purchases of their food products dramatically decrease. Already in their growing cycles, many of these farmers had to toss out perfectly good food that was destined for restaurants and other businesses. Feed the Children has been working with USDA, university researchers and fresh food distributors to identify solutions to get that fresh food into the hands of people who need it. We’ve been successful in engaging our partners to ensure that needed items reach families across America.
How, if at all, have these goals/actions changed considering the economic impact, school closures and extended length of this economic downturn? Do you believe the economic challenges will harm your ability to encourage engagement with corporate America?
Cooke: The COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of our work across America and internationally to light, and every component of how we operate has been affected. However, our mission has remained the same: to provide hope and resources to those without life’s essentials.
We began our Summer Food and Education Program in March so that school-aged children and their families continued to have access to nutritious food. The food boxes we provide are filled with shelf-stable food items (like pasta, canned vegetables, peanut butter, marinara sauce, lean proteins, etc.). The program will continue through July.
We have expanded partnerships and are constantly looking for innovative ways to defeat hunger. Through our partnerships, we are able to provide $7 in food and essentials for each $1 donated.
We are also working to stay connected to our supply chains, so food and essentials continue to be available for families across the U.S. To learn more about our work, visit our website.
While hunger is a primary concern for many people, it is not isolated to one specific event. Many families had hunger and nutrition challenges prior to the pandemic, and we don’t see that changing once the economy bounces back. Our partnerships with our corporate partners are important — we can’t do this alone. We all need to work together to address these issues.
Does Feed the Children have suggestions for policymakers to help reduce insufficient food for families, especially children, due to lack of resources?
Cooke: We must reconsider many of the regular requirements for programs and streamline eligibility, so we can continue to provide food to those who need it. Decision-making authority should be provided to the most local level, so leaders can be empowered to respond to their community’s unique needs.
But we need to be all-in as a global economy. Let’s give those in need one less thing to worry about at a time when we are grappling with so many challenges, so much turmoil. We need to work together — including both governments and corporate America — to address these challenges.
The USDA has been exemplary in temporarily waiving many requirements to let people access food more easily and to help providers get food and essentials to them more easily. The USDA has also taken on the difficult challenge of helping get food from the commercial food supply chain into the hands of people who need it.
This is a triple threat: farmers are hurt, food distributors and restaurants are suffering, and people who need food have not had access to it. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program attempts to address all these components by paying farmers for boxes of fresh food that can be distributed to families directly through organizations such as Feed the Children, as well as churches and food banks. We hope to build on that success by considering how we can work with restaurants to provide fresh food to families, which could also help small businesses as they recover from the crisis.
Randall Popelka serves as VP of global government affairs at Herbalife Nutrition. Based in Washington D.C., he works on a variety of policy issues for the company with the U.S. and foreign governments. He is also responsible for managing industry relations, helping ensure Herbalife Nutrition continues its industry leadership role in advancing healthy, active lifestyles, balanced nutrition; and financial empowerment.
Prior to joining Herbalife Nutrition, Randall worked in the U.S. Senate for over 12 years as a policy advisor and legislative director for two U.S. Senators. While working in the U.S. Senate, he was responsible for providing policy guidance on multiple issues including tax, trade, technology, economic development, transportation and science-related topics.
Following his work in the legislative branch,Randall moved from Capitol Hill to the Executive Branch where he was appointed by President Bush as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the tenure of Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. While at the Department of Commerce, he focused on trade and technology-related issues including U.S. free trade agreements with Panama, Peru, Colombia and South Korea. He also worked with the Department’s Office of Inspector General, a law enforcement agency dedicated to exposing waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. His role included establishing an Office of External Affairs and working with Congress, other Federal agencies and the media to provide awareness and transparency of OIG products.
Randall is a native of the state of Montana and holds a degree from Montana State University.
Erik Cooke heads government relations and government business development for Feed the Children, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in the U.S. and around the world. Prior to that, he led government business development for Easterseals, one of the country’s largest disability service providers. For many years, Erik has taught a popular course at American University on theories of democracy and human rights. Past assignments in the nonprofit and government sectors include the U.S. Senate, Witness for Peace, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the International Scholar Laureate Program, political campaigns, and a fellowship at the Center for the Study of the Presidency. He is also active in local mentoring programs and community gardens. Erik holds degrees in government and international politics from George Mason University and comparative politics from American University.