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Promoting Equity Through Food Pantry Delivery at Bread for the City: A scaled program made possible through a vital partnership with Amazon

Bread for the City, like many community-based organizations across the country, abruptly closed our doors to fight the spread of COVID-19 on March 9, 2020, as life seemingly changed overnight. The difference between the experiences of the communities we serve versus those who were financially secure came into stark contrast almost immediately. Closing Bread for the City, which houses Washington, D.C.’s largest food pantry, could have dire consequences for those who depend on us for not only their groceries but their healthcare and other services in the midst of a global pandemic.

George Jones loading up a BFC van to deliver supplies to the community.

CEO George A. Jones, who has been at the helm of Bread for the City for 25 years, pulled together the leadership team who, witnessing the swift and significant increase in the demand of services, created and executed a plan to meet these rising needs. Jones himself started driving food supplies to housing complexes, retirement communities, domestic violence shelters, and partner nonprofits to get items into the hands of those who needed them the most. A volunteer army assembled to deliver food and household supplies. Bread for the City could not, and would not, close in the face of this crisis.

But with only our resources, we simply could not meet the existing and ever-growing need seen in the community. Overwhelming requests for our services grew daily. As the Wards 7 and 8 Mutual Aid Societies took up residence in our Southeast Center, new and growing partnerships within the community helped ensure that people got what they needed to get through those early days of the pandemic. A cornerstone of the pandemic response, Mutual Aid still operates out of Bread for the City’s Southeast Center.

As COVID numbers rose, volunteers and staff were able to deliver groceries to less than 1,500 households per month between March and April 2020. However, this increased to nearly 7,000 grocery deliveries per month in May 2020 after a transformational partnership with Amazon, including donated delivery services to help get food to our community, as well as a $350,000 donation to assist with hunger relief programs supporting children and families, and the development of the new Southeast Center. Not only were we able to serve more households with groceries due to this partnership with Amazon, but we also met four times more of the need than we typically saw pre-pandemic through our two food pantries. About 40% of those households contain children who are food insecure.

 

Client using food pantry pre-pandemic; “Before the pandemic, BFC served about 5,000 households in our two food pantries per month. During the height of the pandemic, that number skyrocketed to about 5,000 households per week.

What does it mean to be a demonstrative corporate partner to Bread for the City during a worldwide crisis? It means to place your business so deeply in the necessary solutions that you begin to see that the community’s success is directly tied to your own. This describes Amazon’s approach as a creative and solutions-driven partner, sharing the food program’s mission to keep our neighbors safe and fed without barriers. “The pandemic has intensified food insecurity and disproportionately impacted vulnerable groups. Through our community partnership with Bread for the City, Amazon is committed to supporting children and families to help meet their basic needs,” said Andrea Muscadin, Amazon’s Head of Right Now Needs Partnerships. “We will continue to leverage Amazon’s scale for good by donating our services and resources to build community programs and help the Washington, D.C. region thrive.”

Standing up a food delivery program at this scale – the largest food pantry delivery operation in the region – was not just about keeping our neighbors home and safe during the public health crisis. It also came down to equity. Bread for the City was seeing first-hand how the increase in food insecurity across D.C., the barriers to accessing COVID-19 testing, and the inability to source household supplies was impacting those already living with limited resources. Says CEO George Jones, “What we’ve learned during COVID-19 is that it is actually more equitable to offer the choice of food delivery to a household that is struggling to make ends meet. Parents and vulnerable community members should not have to negotiate their budgets, safety, and time against traveling on public transportation to our centers to put a meal on their table.” Delivering those groceries instead offers Bread for the City the opportunity to serve and meet the real needs of our neighbors. We were able to be there for our community because Amazon was there for us.

Through their Community Delivery program, Amazon has partnered with Bread for the City to provide free home delivery of groceries to our food pantry clients. In total, Amazon delivery service partners have distributed an 865,000 meals to children, families, and seniors throughout the D.C. region who were struggling with hunger amid the pandemic. Throughout 2021, Amazon will continue its Community Delivery support to help Bread for the City get food to those in need.

 

Donated delivery services from Amazon did not just offer Bread for the City the ability to provide groceries to neighbors and families in need, but also gave time to move away from reactionary planning due to the pandemic, and the space to strategically envision a future for food pantry delivery that takes equity and progress into account. What’s next on the horizon for food delivery at Bread for the City? A system that offers robust food choice, a continuation and evolution of Bread for the City’s commitment to dignity and respect in the services we provide all D.C. residents.

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