Food banks mobilize partners and provide support to communities suffering from pandemic
As food insecurity rose because of the COVID-19 pandemic, food banks in Latin America doubled their efforts and brought together like-minded partners to meet the pressing community need. Latin America accounts for three of the ten countries with the highest total of coronavirus cases — Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina — and the region is currently being hit harder than any other. Due to reduced or lost incomes, disrupted supply chains, and rising food prices, many households have been forced to cut down on the quantity and quality of food consumption. In response, members of The Global FoodBanking Network committed to reaching more people than ever before despite the challenges the pandemic presented. In fact, Network members in Latin America served 157 percent more people in 2020 than in 2019 and distributed 67 percent more food. More than two-fifths of the individuals served were accessing the food banks for the first time, in direct response to the health crisis. National networks of Latin American food banks accounted for the majority of the service and distribution increases, but established GFN members across the board scaled up the capacity for responding to community needs while adding to the number of areas reached. Without this expansion, the severity of the pandemic for millions of individuals would have been considerably worse. Food bank leaders employed a number of solutions to not just continue their work during the pandemic but also expand their operations. Many successfully petitioned governments for permission to circulate as essential service providers during lockdowns. When food donations slowed, food banks raised funds and utilized GFN grants to buy food to compensate. Staff members worked longer days and weekends to meet increased demand and compensate for the loss of volunteers, who were unable prepare food for distribution because of COVID protocols. When schools and community agencies closed, GFN members found alternative ways to make sure families had food to eat — in some cases, food bank employees delivered boxes of food to houses themselves. National food bank network Asociacion de Bancos de Alimentos de Colombia, or ABACO, leaned on established and newly formed alliances to source products, raise money, and solve pandemic-related logistics problems. At the request of ABACO, those food companies reached out to their partners to widen its network of support. “We are delivering food [through] an alliance of many organizations that not only donate food to us, they donate packaging, logistics capacities, they lend us vehicles to transport food, even in planes from some airlines” said Juan Carlos Buitrago, executive director of ABACO, in an interview with El Nuevo Siglo. “It is a very large alliance,” Buitrago said. “The country has shown great solidarity.” To best supplement the needs of hungry families facing the challenges of the pandemic, ABACO put together and distributed boxes of food staples. To ensure a balanced mix of foods, the organization sought the services of a nutritionist, and ABACO also contacted the national military to help pack and deliver the food boxes. ABACO’s reach grew even further when Colombia Cuida Colombia, an alliance of more than 300 private sector and civil society organizations across the country, approached the organization about joining the campaign and leading the work of the food security committee. Thanks to the tireless work of ABACO and the partnerships they established, the national network served 3.2 million people in 2020 — a 391 percent increase over 2019 — according to a recent GFN report. ABACO, which is composed of 22 food banks, distributed 88 percent more food than the previous year for a total of 63.6 million kilograms. ABACO is far from the only GFN member that stepped up to meet the overwhelming need created by the pandemic. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, one of the cities hit hardest by COVID-19 in March and April of 2020, Banco de Alimentos Diakonia partnered with the local municipality to provide food staples to 442,000 people. In Argentina, a member of the Red de Bancos de Alimentos network of food banks was approached by McCain Foods, which had a previously established relationship with the organization. McCain wanted to donate 9,000 tons of potatoes to help alleviate hunger throughout the country, and Red de Bancos Alimentos collaborated with them and other partners to make it happen. In 2020, RBA served 1.6 million people, a 228% increase over 2019. To support the monumental efforts of its members, The Global FoodBanking Network delivered the highest monetary amount of grants than any other time in the organization’s 15-year history — including $5 million to food banks in Latin America over a 12-month period. These grants provided funding for food acquisition, personal protective equipment, transport, and other necessary expenditures. Additionally, GFN provided expertise and logistics support during the unprecedented crisis. “We grew together in sharing experiences, sharing ideas,” said Alfredo Kasdorf, Latin America regional consultant for GFN. “None of us knew this kind of crisis. We learned from each other and doing it together. We now have a deeper relationship with Network members than ever before.” To learn more about the work GFN food banks carried out in 2020, read the summary of what we learned from the latest annual survey of our Network.