Feeding Nevada County: Bringing everyone to the table
Special to The Union
As we begin to shift to phase 2 of reopening our county’s businesses, many people are still feeling the economic impact of the stay-at-home order and will be for some time. Lost wages due to temporary (and sometimes permanent) closures have increased usage at our local food banks, but our local farmers, ranchers, and businesses have stepped up in a big way to make sure that no one in Nevada County has to go hungry.
Feeding those at risk
Since the stay-at-home order began, 211 Connecting Point, a service of Nevada County to assist people in need, saw daily calls in the food category as people already struggling with food access were wondering how they could access food in our community.
At the beginning of the crisis, Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) saw big drops in the amount of donations they typically receive from local grocery stores. They also began experiencing some delays in their bulk food orders, due to COVID disruptions to food distribution channels. Another challenge they suddenly were faced with: 90% of their volunteers that operate the food distributions were seniors, and with many of them sheltering at home, IFM needed more volunteers to serve their growing number of clients. Luckily, when the panic buying that left many store shelves bare began to ease up, the food donations started coming back in. And when local community members heard about the volunteer shortage, they began to step up to fill in the gaps of service.
While Phil Alonso, Executive Director of IFM, is “cautiously optimistic” about having the resources to meet the growing demand, this crisis has highlighted the challenge of getting food to people who can’t leave their home, especially now when people have limited resources and may not feel safe leaving their home. In addition to adjusting to a new Drive-Thru model of food distributions IFM has forged new partnerships with other local nonprofits to help address this issue. “We have seen a drastic increase in the number of new families coming to us; a 260% increase in the amount of new clients signing up for service,” Alonso said. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and this crisis is going to cause long term shifts in our thinking and in how nonprofit service providers operate. These hardships give us the opportunity to reexamine our food system as a whole, and can be a catalyst for creating positive change.”
For example, a collaboration led by United Way of Nevada County and Interfaith Food Ministry, and supported by the Nevada Union Joint High School District, and the Food Bank of Nevada County was formed in January to help feed the food insecure youth of Nevada County and their families, and that program quickly expanded in the days after the stay-at-home order was issued. Once schools closed, United Way and IFM coordinated with the school district to adapt the program to a Drive-Thru Distribution to occur during the same time students and their families can pick up pre-made meals from the School’s Central Kitchen. Distribution is done at both the Nevada Union and Bear River High School campuses every other Tuesday 11:30am-1pm using all social distancing and sanitation precautions to ensure that everyone stays healthy. This program is just one example of the new creative ways food is getting out to food insecure families.
To help homebound seniors, Gold Country Community Services (GCCS) introduced a Senior Grocery Bag Program by collaborating with Interfaith Food Ministry, Food Bank of Nevada County and funded by a grant from Dignity Health. The grocery bags for this program are built at IFM and then delivered by GCCS volunteer drivers to Meal on Wheels clients on a monthly basis. IFM has also partnered with FREED on a similar program to deliver groceries to our neighbors with disabilities on a weekly basis. “This crisis has brought to light the challenges of getting food to people’s homes in a rural county, where people live far out from community centers,” said Alonso. “It has highlighted how challenging it is to get food to people in need normally, and then with added difficulties of people, particularly seniors and people with disabilities at higher risk, having to stay home. How do we address that? We need to seize this opportunity to reexamine our food system as a whole and how to increase access in order to reduce food insecurity, and what we’re going to do when our community has unforeseen disaster.”
Feeding the masses
Ben Painter, general manager of SPD Markets, has been working harder than ever to keep the shelves stocked with food and supplies. “At first it was crazy. We were not getting deliveries at all, or getting them almost a week late, from one of the largest wholesalers in the world… but our stores have so many different vendors, it gives us a little more edge than a corporate grocery who gets everything directly from one distribution center. Produce hasn’t been an issue – it’s been eggs, core grocery supplies, flour, and paper products that are challenging.
Painter notes that getting produce or local products has not been a problem and that he’s “extremely grateful we’re still open and keeping 150 employees working,” adding, “We’ve been having to scrape, beg and plead for what’s on our shelves – creates a lot more work for us. No idea what will happen in future, things changing hourly, hard to say. But things seem to be getting a little better. We are here to supply our community, that’s what we will do.”
BriarPatch Food Co-op has also been working hard since the beginning to help keep Nevada County fed. They quickly implemented the necessary social distancing and sanitation guidelines and worked to keep the shelves stocked with the products that people needed most. They also started a curbside delivery program for those who are in the higher risk health category or just do not feel comfortable entering a store. In addition, the Co-op has been delivering deli lunches to first responders and other “local heroes”.
As Nevada County begins to lift the stay-at-home orders and get businesses up and running again, we are in new territory and no one knows the short-term and long-term impacts of this moment in history. One thing that is certain, though, is that Nevada County businesses, organizations, and people will continue to work to ensure that everyone is fed no matter what the future brings.
Rachel Berry is the engagement director at Sierra Harvest and Valerie Costa is the special sections manager at The Union.
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