Food insecurity — not knowing where your next meal will come from — was a major issue before the novel coronavirus arrived. As efforts to contain the pandemic squeeze economies and jobs, even more people around the world now face challenges finding safe, regular access to food.
Hunger affects every Micron community, and from the start, addressing hunger has been a major priority for the Micron Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. Of grants awarded so far from the fund, at least US$2.2 million is going to organizations working to feed those who need it most during the pandemic. Additional support is coming through employee donations that are matched two-to-one by the company.
Projects to eliminate food insecurity take many forms around the globe. Addressing such a fundamental human need has a huge effect on how well people withstand a crisis like the pandemic and how they are positioned to flourish after it is over.
Here are three examples of the work Micron is supporting.
The Rotary Club of Muar is helping its community through three different projects. Two in particular focus on food. The club is providing essential grocery items and other necessities for four months to 175 families. It is also helping five charity homes serving a combined 256 people offset their monthly expenses, including food, for several months.
Micron has given the club $171,000 to support its overall efforts. Two other Malaysian Rotary clubs are doing the same thing and also received Micron Foundation support.
“We wanted to provide the basic necessities like rice, sugar, flour, canned food, noodles, etc., so that these affected families would at least have food on their table during this time of difficulty,” said Dr. Senthil Doraisamy, secretary of the Rotary Club of Muar.
The Rotary will work with another nonprofit, the MyKasih Foundation, to load money onto families’ national identity cards, which can be used for financial transactions. This, Doraisamy said, allows families to focus on their own particular needs when they visit the grocery store.
Many nongovernmental organizations are focusing on connecting people in need with essential groceries, Doraisamy said. People seeking help often have day-to-day jobs (cutting grass or working at car washes, for example) or are now unemployed because of the financial losses caused by Malaysia’s coronavirus lockdown.
“Those of us who are in a better situation should help those in need in this time [of] global pandemic crisis that the modern world has not seen before,” Doraisamy said. “The virus has spread throughout the world so fast that it has killed so many people. Governments are having difficulty in managing the situation and we as humans need to do our part for humanity.”
Before the pandemic, one in eight Idahoans — including one in six children — already faced food insecurity. Now, those numbers are escalating, said Morgan Wilson, chief development officer for the Idaho Foodbank. Micron has given $150,000 to help the Foodbank keep pace with that escalation.
The organization is using unemployment numbers to estimate ongoing need. “Our aim is to really make sure that, regardless of a person’s location in Idaho, they have access to the food they need to thrive,” Wilson said.
The Foodbank covers the state with help from a network of more than 400 other organizations — soup kitchens, senior centers, schools, churches and more. As a result, the charity has had to do more than just adapt its own operations to social distancing and other pandemic practices. It had to work with the full partner network to find new ways to operate.
The Foodbank’s mobile pantry program, for example, used to coordinate with local partners to set up something of a farmers market atmosphere. Amid COVID-19, it has become a drive-thru model where volunteers — following careful safety practices — put boxes of food into drivers’ trunks.
Normally, 90% of the Foodbank’s food is donated. But with supply chains strained and fewer donations available from grocery stores, the Foodbank has made the two largest food purchases in its history. Micron’s donation helped make those possible.
Most of the Foodbank’s partners are reporting a 50% increase in need, Wilson said. Blaine County, home to the famed Sun Valley ski resort, was the initial epicenter of the virus in Idaho; Foodbank partners there say triple the number of people are seeking assistance.
This is where running a statewide operation helps. “That's a lot for a local pantry to take on,” Wilson said.
Founded in 1984, the Foodbank is not a government agency. About 88% of its funding comes from philanthropy — including the generosity of the Micron Foundation and Micron employees who give to and volunteer with the group.
“Those are the funds that allow us to do what we do,” Wilson said. “We are so grateful for Micron’s partnership — the funds, time and voice. The voice that Micron gives to this experience and sharing with others why we need their help is truly appreciated.”
The Akshaya Patra Foundation also has an established history, marking 20 years in operation. Six days a week, its 55 kitchens prepare a combined 1.8 million daily meals for schoolchildren, a project for which the foundation partners with the government of India. With the capacity to feed nearly 2.5 million people a day, Akshaya Patra has also participated in past humanitarian relief efforts, helping those affected by flooding, drought and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.
Now, the organization finds itself caring for migrant laborers, residents of the poorest parts of major cities and day-to-day workers who have lost their incomes amid India’s COVID-19 lockdown. Since March 23, Akshaya Patra has provided more than 45 million meals to people in need, said Vandana Tilak, CEO of Akshaya Patra Foundation USA.
Micron’s support — a donation of $500,000 — is specifically benefitting residents of the states of Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, providing approximately 750,000 cooked meals and 27,000 food kits to individuals and families in need. The food kits contain ingredients for multiple meals and allow families to easily prepare their own meals at home. For people without permanent housing, a kitchen or appropriate food storage, the daily cooked meals provide a better alternative, said Shridhar Venkat, CEO of Akshaya Patra Foundation India. Accounting for how long the food kits last, the donation should provide about 1.5 million meals total.
Akshaya Patra has performed this work amid national, state and local lockdowns, Venkat said. The state’s borders are sealed and strict social distancing protocols are in place to contain the pandemic.
“The challenges that we face during our relief efforts include difficulty in procuring raw food materials, packaging them in safe carton boxes, and delivering it on a large scale when the supply chain is broken due to the crisis,” Venkat said.
The organization is following enhanced protocols to ensure its facilities, distribution sites and equipment are sanitized and safe for the vulnerable populations it serves. People living in hunger and poverty are already likely to suffer the most from the novel coronavirus and the related economic effects of lockdown, Venkat said.
“We must ensure that lack of food is not costing lives,” Tilak said. “Without the generous support of donors, we would not be able to increase our relief efforts to reach out to as many individuals and families in need.”