Q&A with Casey Marsh, Chief Development Officer of Feeding America
Dec 17, 2020
On Episode 5 of the Value in Giving podcast, Casey Marsh, Chief Development Officer of Feeding America, joined Vanguard Charitable President Jane Greenfield to discuss the invaluable role Feeding America is playing to help alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seven months later, we spoke with Casey to hear some updates from Feeding America.
Q: How has your organization been impacted by COVID-19?
A: In times of normal disasters like hurricanes or wildfires, Feeding America food banks rely upon each other and the Feeding America national office, which coordinates with neighboring food banks to pool resources and provide food and logistical supports so that the impacted food bank can efficiently serve people in the midst of a disaster.
In the case of the pandemic, all 200-member food banks faced the same disaster at the same time. Within a 24-hour period, all food banks saw a 60% increase in demand. Lines and lines of people needed food. Food banks had to change overnight.
Adapting to change has been Feeding America’s mantra in 2020. Our incredible network of food banks has had to pivot and then pivot again. We had to change where food came from, where trucks were sent in the morning, and the types of food that we handle. To enact social distance guidelines, food bank warehouse staff created defined workstations along an assembly line to safely sort and pack food for distribution. We had to change how we host volunteers.
Again, because of the need to social distance, our operating model for food distribution changed. A normally very high-touch process centered around human-to-human contact shifted to become drive-through no-contact distributions. In some cases, food banks modified work hours and began operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The generous support from individuals, companies, celebrities, and legislators helps enable us to respond to this sudden and urgent need for food assistance. The Feeding America food bank network continues to evolve and respond with unprecedented speed, strength, and resiliency.
Q: Can you tell us about a silver lining that your organization has found during this time?
A: During this challenge of a lifetime, we are seeing firsthand the care for neighbors in need and a generosity on their behalf that is humbling and inspiring. We have witnessed the fact that addressing food insecurity is something that can bring everyone together and unite us all in the common mission to build hunger-relief solutions in the immediate, the mid-term, and the long-term.
Feeding America continues to be the recipient of extraordinary, generous support, which has helped us respond to the sudden, urgent, and ongoing need for food assistance. Every day we see the impact of our generous donors’ and partners’ support provide to our network—a network that is deeply committed to making sure that people facing hunger have what they need to get through to another day.
These are people like Bobby, a teacher who recently moved to a new state to help his sick mother. The pandemic made it harder for him to get his teaching license, so the turkey he received at a recent food distribution was his contribution to Thanksgiving dinner . Or like Courtney, who lost her job as a supervisor at a group home because of the pandemic. The nourishing food she and her son received from their local food pantry is helping until she can get back on her feet.
Q: What is one thing that you were able to do (or learned) that might surprise our donors?
A: Feeding America is a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks that provides more meals to children, families, and seniors than any other domestic hunger-relief organization. The COVID-19 pandemic compels us to see hunger in a new light. Hunger has a disproportionate impact on people of color, and COVID-19 exacerbated inequalities. Food insecurity affects:
- 1 in 13 White households
- 1 in 6 Latino households
- 1 in 5 Black households
- 1 in 4 Native American households
COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on these same populations. Namely, higher rates of unemployment, hospitalization, and mortality. To act on disparities, Feeding America is pioneering new approaches to old problems. Our goal is to collaborate with communities to:
- Remove barriers to food access
- Accelerate public benefits enrollment
- Focus on priority populations, including Black households and rural communities in the south.
Our priorities reflect a commitment to identify and work toward solutions to eliminate social, structural, and systemic inequities that contribute to food insecurity for individuals that have been historically disadvantaged and/or adversely impacted by racial inequities.
These are people like Bobby, a teacher who recently moved to a new state to help his sick mother. The pandemic made it harder for him to get his teaching license, so the turkey he received at a recent food distribution was his contribution to Thanksgiving dinner.
Q: What is your biggest focus in the next year?
A: We need to think through big solutions to end hunger with our long-term institutional supporters. Meeting the increased demand for food assistance is our priority, but we cannot do it alone. It is a multifaceted effort, and we’re leaning on existing partnerships and developing new ones. Public and private partnerships are critical for overcoming the challenges COVID-19 has created for the charitable food assistance system. Private industry, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and volunteers are needed in tandem with significant government support and cooperation with federal, state, and local government agencies.
For example, since the beginning of the pandemic, Feeding America and our network have worked closely to educate lawmakers and USDA on the increase in demand for food assistance and to advocate for increased federal resources to address this crisis.
Our priorities work together to advance outcomes for people facing hunger and will enable us to:
- Source more food, including nutritious food and new supply sources.
- Build our network’s capacity to distribute this food – and do so equitably.
- Make it easier for people to get the food assistance they need.
Capitalize on this moment when hunger is in the spotlight so that we can get even more people working together to end this crisis
Q: What else do you want donors to know?
A: This holiday season, more families are showing up to food banks than ever before, many for the first time. The Feeding America network of food banks has seen new and staggering levels of demand of people seeking help and is working tirelessly to support neighbors in need so everybody can have access to food, especially during the holidays. Here’s how to help:
- To support efforts nationwide, you can make a donation to Feeding America by going to www.feedingamerica.org.
- To support your community or affected communities directly, you can use the Feeding America food bank locator.
- Additionally, anyone who is healthy and able to help can volunteer their time. Food banks need volunteers to help with food distributions and other critical activities.
- Advocate and join the Campaign to End Hunger and be part of the fight to end hunger in America today.