Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Food Banks Are Overwhelmed. Here’s How Business Is Lending Them a Lifeline

By Leon Kaye
Food Banks

By now you’ve seen the photos on newswires, including the heartbreaking sight of the line of cars outside the San Antonio Food Bank. Across the U.S., similar photos of lines outside food banks from San Jose to Chicago to New York show how the novel coronavirus has taken a devastating toll — a much higher one than the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and, earlier in that decade, the 9/11 tragedy.

For those of us who endured spells of unemployment after those crises and remember the friends and relatives asking us why we didn’t just "go out and get any job,” these photos taken at food banks sear into our consciousness the devastating impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on millions of families. Businesses have shuttered, and while some retailers including Walmart are on a hiring spree, paychecks have stopped coming for millions of people while the stimulus money can’t arrive fast enough, if private lenders don’t get their hands on it first.

Adding to this perfect, or should we say, horrific storm: As this study from ReFED sums up, the food supply chain in the U.S. couldn’t recalibrate in time. The spread of COVID-19 left no room to adjust as consumers emptied store shelves, forced businesses to close, and left many farmers who rely on foodservice distribution companies in the lurch. Food products such as fresh produce, dairy and meat that were meant for a large restaurant chain just can’t be suddenly repackaged on a dime and diverted to grocery stores. Remember, it’s called the food supply chain, not a food sling shot, for a reason. One kink in the chain, and the whole movement of goods can go awry.

And therein lies why many are confronting the threat of hunger, a shift that probably could have occurred over a few months couldn’t move fast enough in a few weeks, and now food banks find themselves inundated by families who only a month ago were able to get by. Sure, the commitment to food banks that Jeff Bezos made earlier this month certainly helps, yet demands on food banks will surge as spring turns into summer.

In the midst of this crisis, we have seen many companies step up. Here are a few:

Danone North America: This was one of the first companies to cut a check to food banks as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the U.S. Last month, the dairy and plant-based foods company said it would donate $1.5 million, including $300,000 worth of food products, to food banks across 12 U.S. states.

Dole: The brand most associated with pineapple has been involved with several local hunger relief efforts. According to an emailed statement to TriplePundit, Dole has supported World Central Kitchen’s efforts in California, teamed up with Lyft to help deliver meals in Chicago and Seattle, and delivered treats such as smoothies and fruit cups to frontline healthcare workers at approximately 650 hospitals nationwide.

International Paper: You don’t have to be a food company or retailer to support the fight against hunger. This Memphis-based pulp and paper company recently donated thousands of boxes to food banks in southern California.

MetLife: Through its foundation, MetLife announced last month it would donate $1 million to food banks in cities where it has a “significant presence.”

Starbucks: The coffee giant is one example of a retailer that had to move fast and on the fly as it was forced to shift from becoming that “third place” other than home or office to hang out, and instead has become a drive-thru operation. The company said it has lent some of its trucking and logistics capacity to assist with local food banks. In addition, it has donated $1 million to Feeding America to support its COVID-19 response fund. And all that milk? Starbucks said at least 62,000 gallons of it, along with 700,000 meals, found their way to food banks across U.S. and Canadian communities.

Subaru of America: The automaker says it is working with two of its distributors, in partnership with the nonprofit Feeding America, to provide 50 million meals across the U.S. Subaru also said it would work with its 600-plus dealerships across the country to support local food banks with donations, food drives and volunteering campaigns.

Unilever: Another first-mover during this crisis, the CPG giant’s North America division announced a donation of over $8 million in products to food banks across the U.S. And as reported in USA Today, Unilever’s 14 U.S. factories will launch a “national day of service” on May 21, during which the company will manufacture and then deliver as much as $12 million worth of products.

To put all of these efforts in context, Maryland’s state government had to scramble fast to funnel $8 million into local food banks, as Gov. Larry Hogan explained during a recent interview with CNN.

The bottom line: Not only do food banks need more contributions like those we mentioned above, but food companies need to rethink their supply chains, and do so fast, to weed out inefficiencies, slash waste and help get available food to the people who need it most.

Image credit: Pixabay

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye