COVID-19 has drastically changed everyday life for so many of us. Early on, as the pandemic began to spread in the U.S., the state of New York and its surrounding areas became the biggest virus hot spots in the country.
In Westchester County alone, data from mid-September shows that there have been more than 37,000 confirmed cases thus far. Local residents have experienced an increased need for food assistance as they face job losses and financial hardship, and Feeding Westchester has been there to answer the call. Here's how Feeding Westchester responded to the changing circumstances in the county in order to better serve our food-insecure neighbors.
A Sharp Increase in Food Distribution
As job losses soared to record highs in Westchester County amid the COVID-19 shutdowns, food insecurity quickly rose. Feeding Westchester has worked diligently to quickly adjust our programs and processes to ensure that we can feed individuals and families experiencing hunger while making their safety and that of our staff a top priority.
We’re proud to have distributed over 13 million pounds of food from March through August — equal to 11 million meals and 123% percent more than the amount of food that we typically distribute in an entire year. At the height of the pandemic, Feeding Westchester distributed more than 500,000 pounds of food weekly.
How COVID-19 Has Changed Our Operations
During the pandemic, there have been several modifications to how Feeding Westchester operates. For instance, one way that we’ve been able to better serve hungry residents is by expanding our operating hours.
Let’s explore some of the specific changes that we’ve made to better serve our community and keep everyone safe.
Our Food Recovery Program is one significant way that we secure food for distribution. Through the program, we pick up food donations from more than 80 farmers, wholesalers and distributors to recover perfectly good, nutritious food that would otherwise go to waste.
In a typical year, we recover more than 3 million pounds of nutritious food from businesses. However, because food has been flying off the shelves at retailers and their operations have been affected by the pandemic, the amount of food we’ve been able to secure through our Food Recovery Program has been significantly reduced. Feeding Westchester has responded to this change by leveraging our buying power — we can turn $1 into three meals for food-insecure residents — to purchase more food on our own.
Food Donations Update
At the height of the pandemic, Feeding Westchester halted food donations to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and due to a decrease in volunteers able to sort and pack food. We are happy to now be hosting food drives again, and we are also accepting small donations of shelf-stable items in bins outside of our facility. Food is being collected at 200 Clearbrook Road in Elmsford on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Anyone who would like to donate food can also purchase it directly from our Amazon Wish List.
Increase in “To-Go” Services
One way we’ve been able to distribute so much food throughout the pandemic is by increasing drive-thru food distributions and Mobile Food Pantry stops, which minimize person-to-person contact. Our volunteers pack premade boxes and bags of food that are delivered right to residents’ cars. Though we are no longer hosting direct drive-thru distributions, many of our partners are.
Our Mobile Food Pantry distribution sites include the Boys & Girls Club in Mount Kisco, Jefferson Valley Mall, and St. Peter’s Child Care Center in Yonkers. Check out our Mobile Pantry schedule for a full list of stops.
Feeding Westchester relies on the hard work of 11,000 volunteers every year to help us feed those who are struggling in the area, and our volunteer force has been deeply affected by COVID-19. Although we are not currently accepting new volunteer applications at our distribution center, we are thankful to have experienced volunteers serving the community. We’re also grateful for our operations staff, who have been working hard to keep volunteer operations safe and to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
How You Can Help
During this unprecedented time, Feeding Westchester is depending on monetary donations to continue feeding every Westchester resident in need. Join us in the fight against hunger across Westchester County and make a donation today.