Update on Food & Friends’ Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

- May 29, 2020

As you have likely heard, the District of Columbia and some of our neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia have started slowly reopening certain businesses and activities, starting today.

While this may be a sign of progress in this pandemic, we are still far from any true return to normalcy. We must continue to take precautions to protect our community from the still spreading current infection, as well as guard against a resurgence in the coming months.

I want you to know that Food & Friends will be keeping all safety precautions in place for the foreseeable future. These include physical distancing and limited numbers of people in the building, wearing masks when interacting with others, and no-contact deliveries.

The population that Food & Friends serves closely mirrors those most impacted by COVID-19. In fact, most of the diseases by which Food & Friends determines eligibility are cited as risk factors if COVID-19 is contracted, such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart failure, and renal and lung disease. In addition, nearly 80% of our clients identify as African American or Latino, communities that are being disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, particularly in our region.

Food & Friends has long served as a support system and safety net to those who are underserved by our current healthcare system and who may lack access to nutritious, affordable food. As our region reopens, these communities will continue to bear the brunt of this virus’s devastation. They will continue to need Food & Friends and we will continue to need you.

I have also been thinking a lot about the death of George Floyd this week and about all of the layered inequities in our country that are in many ways getting worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is heartbreaking and hard to see the end of the tunnel that we’re in. But I believe Food & Friends is a force for good – knocking on doors, delivering life-sustaining meals, protecting our neighbors – thanks largely to you.

I have said it before, but we are in this for the long haul. Reopening or not, we’re committed to keeping our seriously ill neighbors safe, healthy and cared for, for as long as we’re needed. If you have any questions about our service or ways to get involved, please reach out.

Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director

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Previous Update from April 24

This week, I want to share a bit more about the monumental task our kitchen staff and volunteers are undertaking each week. As demand for our unique service continues to rise, we are now preparing and delivering an average of 5,000 more meals per week than we were in mid-March. This is a dramatic increase and our team is rising to the challenge in creative fashion. With modified delivery schedules and fewer volunteers per shift, we have streamlined production and developed brand new packing systems in order to meet the need.

Yet another challenge has come through our food supply chain. As our nation’s food system strains to make its own adjustments, our normal ingredients and supplies have sometimes been unavailable when we need them. While we work to procure items though new vendors, our chefs and dietitians are making creative adjustments and substitutions to our 11 different meal plans. Through all this, maintaining the integrity of our high quality, medically specialized meals remains paramount.

One way we’ve been supported through these challenges recently is by the amazing growth of our Bread & Butter Monthly Giving Club. Well over 100 individuals signed up as monthly givers in April, which helps provide a reliable and consistent funding base no matter what comes our way. I’m so thankful to these dedicated donors and to everyone who has shown their support in whatever way they can. If you are a monthly donor, thank you! If you’d like to become a Bread & Butter Club member, you can join here.

Our community has shown such strength and ingenuity these past many weeks and I know we will continue to help each other through, just as the Food & Friends community has always done. You can find the latest information about our needs and work on our COVID-19 webpage and by following us on social media. And of course, I will be in touch with periodic updates as we move forward.

Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director

 

Previous Update from April 17

This week I wanted to share some of what we’re experiencing on the ground. As this pandemic disrupts patterns of life and endangers community members with underlying health problems, Food & Friends is seeing a spike in demand for our service.

There has always been a large need for home-delivered, medically tailored meals, but that population has significantly grown. Medical providers are referring more seriously ill patients to Food & Friends so that they don’t need to venture outside of their homes. Fewer caretakers are able to take that risk as well, further increasing demand.

  • Last month, we accepted 60% more new clients than March of last year.
  • Overall, we’re serving 30% more meals than this time last year.
  • We delivered 4,000 more meals the first week of April compared to the first week of March.

All this represents significant growth in the number of meals being prepared and delivered – all being done with fewer volunteers due to social distancing requirements. Our chefs are developing innovative ways to streamline production while keeping nutrition and flavor standards high, as always.

While the prevalence of the virus will hopefully decrease in the US in the coming months, the long-term effects will stay with us. The financial strain caused by job losses and furloughs will create additional, lasting burdens for families, forcing more of our neighbors to weigh the costs of food, medicine, treatment, housing, and more. Our public institutions and funds are being exhausted, creating uncertainty for those in need of social services in the future. And the underlying health problems faced by so many in our community will remain.

Food & Friends is operating in a different world. But the support you’ve shown us is helping us meet the demand today and preparing us to still be there for those who need us in the future. As our supporters, you are our foundation. I am thankful for you every day and I hope we can express our sincere appreciation in person in due time.

Thank you for all that you do,

Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director

 

Previous Update from April 10

My update this week is full of gratitude from me, from our staff, and most importantly, from our clients. We’re settling into our new production schedule and routine, and continue to make adjustments. Your patience and flexibility during this time has been greatly appreciated.

One of the things that makes Food & Friends such a special place are the many familiar faces that usually fill the building. I find myself missing many of those faces right now and I so look forward to the day when we can all come together again. We are glad that many of our volunteers are staying healthy at home and are so grateful to the volunteers who are able to join us each day. If you are able to join us, we are in particular need of kitchen volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays and delivery volunteers throughout the week. All of you are so encouraging to our staff and we know we’ll have a bustling kitchen again before too long.

We also take heart from the overwhelming support we have received in the form of donations and emergency grants. To know you are there and you care so deeply about our clients is inspiring to all of us. This hardship will last for a while and will have impacts for years to come, but your support now is an incredible gift that sustains our spirits and our work.

Throughout all of these challenges and changes, we’ve been in close contact with our clients and I want to share a little bit of what your support has meant.

The overwhelming sentiment is gratitude for Food & Friends’ service and relief that we are still delivering. Many have shared that they are scared or unable to go out on their own for food. One shared that he’s homebound and Food & Friends is the only way he’s able to get his meals. He called us (you, really) a blessing.

One client who has two young children was especially grateful because she hasn’t been able to use her WIC vouchers since stores are sold out of the specific brands and sizes of foods that she is able to get with them.

Another client called their dietitian to say, “In case we are all in lockdown for the rest of our lives, I just want you to know it was so nice to meet you and that I am extremely grateful for everything Food & Friends has done for me.” The dietitian assured her that we won’t be in this state forever but we are glad to be able to help her, especially right now.

Your support has brought safety and stability to our clients’ lives during troubled times. You are saving lives. I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done and continue to do.

Please stay safe and feel free to reach out to me or our other team members. We’d love to hear from you.

With my deepest gratitude,

Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director, Food & Friends

 

Previous Update from April 3

I continue to be so thankful for the commitment you’ve shown to help take care of our clients. Every dollar donated, every minute volunteered, every kind word shared, is keeping our entire staff going and keeping our clients safe at home during this challenging time. The Food & Friends community has never felt stronger or closer.

I’m writing today with several updates and opportunities for you to help us in the weeks and months ahead.

Deliver meals – Delivery volunteers remain our highest need right now. We’re practicing no-contact deliveries and are staggering food pickups outside to minimize person-to-person interaction.

Kitchen volunteering – Starting next week we are reopening a limited number of volunteer spots to existing volunteers to help out in the kitchen. New social distancing rules will be in place and we appreciate everyone’s concerted effort to maintain a safe working environment.

Volunteers can sign up for shifts through VolunteerHub.

Start your own fundraiser – Using Food & Friends’ easy, do-it-yourself fundraising platform, you can create your own fundraising page to collect donations. This is a great way to virtually come together with your friends and family in support of a cause you care about. We’ll provide plenty of help and resources to make it simple. Go to www.foodandfriends.org/fundraise.

We know that COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time and that things will be different and often difficult for months to come. Your support of Food & Friends enables our clients to stay at home, safe and nourished and cared for. Thank you for all that you continue to do. I hope I get the opportunity to thank you in person soon.

With sincere gratitude,

Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director, Food & Friends

 

Previous Update from March 27th

With your continued support and encouragement, we’ve made it through another uncertain week. Yesterday I held a town hall-style videoconference and answered questions about everything that’s happening right now at Food & Friends. I appreciated the thoughtful questions and thank everyone who participated. If you were unable to participate, you can watch the video here:

 

Moving forward, I have some important volunteer updates to share. As you know, we paused volunteer operations this week so that our team could regroup.

Starting March 30th, we will reopen to volunteers for delivery only. Programmatically, delivery is our highest need and also allows volunteers to assist without having to be in such close proximity to others. Delivery volunteers will pick up at 15-minute intervals and collect the food outside under the red awning.

Starting April 6, we will begin delivering Home-Delivered Meals once a week for the foreseeable future, rather than the prior 3-times per week schedule. Clients will continue to receive 18 meals per week. We will continue to use our 11 specialized meal plans. Grocery clients will remain on their usual bi-weekly schedule.

Limited kitchen and packing volunteer shifts will resume April 6th, but you will notice some changes. If you’ve volunteered recently, you’ve probably seen how challenging proper social distancing has been. We want to protect our volunteers and staff as much as our clients, so we have developed thorough work plans for each area of our operation moving forward. The plans include:

  • Adjusted shift times to spread volunteers out across the day
  • Tight caps on the number of volunteers allowed in each shift and work area
  • Stations marked on the tables at least six feet apart to indicate where volunteers should stand as they work
  • Additional signage to remind everyone of the need to spread out

Thank you for your patience at this time and please look out for regular updates as volunteer operations pick back up again in the coming days. If you are healthy, not in a higher risk group, and able to volunteer, we still need your help, but please keep in mind that delivery remains our greatest need, and we’ll have limited kitchen shifts for the next several weeks. We’ve missed seeing our regular volunteers here, and we’re looking forward to the point when you’re back at Food & Friends with us.

If you would like to help through other means, please donate to support our pandemic response efforts. Your generosity is a powerful force for good in this unsettled time.

With my deepest gratitude,
Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director, Food & Friends

 

Previous Update from March 23rd

 

We are all facing unprecedented challenges and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your steadfast and generous support. If you have volunteered, donated or asked how we are doing these last few weeks, I say thank you. You are what keeps us going.

I’m writing today with several important updates:

  • This past weekend, Food & Friends decided to proactively deliver two-week supplies of food to our clients. An amazing group of volunteers sprang into action on short notice and helped us to deliver over 2,000 boxes of shelf-stable food items, as well as thousands of bags of groceries. It was a monumental task and we couldn’t have done it without the incredible volunteers and donors who have supported our pandemic response efforts.

 

  • Because each of our clients now has a sufficient supply of healthy food for two weeks, we are taking this week to make further adjustments that will improve the safety of everyone involved. Food & Friends is temporarily suspending volunteer activities for at least one week. Volunteers are a vital resource and this week will give our staff time to rework our operations and deliveries in order to maintain greater social distancing.

 

  • I know you care deeply about the mission of Food & Friends and likely have questions during this uncertain time. I will be holding a town hall-style videoconference on Thursday, March 26th at 1 pm and encourage you to join. You can register here. Please submit questions in advance to our Communications Director, Abigail Seiler.

 

  • Finally, I want to let you know that several Food & Friends events have been affected by the outbreak. Dining Out For Life has sadly been canceled. We will look for opportunities to hold a similar style event in the future but we realize our friends in the restaurant industry are facing hardships of their own. Our annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner & Awards has also been postponed. We will still celebrate our incredible volunteers in small ways next month and will reschedule the dinner for a later date.

Rallying together as a community to face a crisis is the Food & Friends way and it’s exactly how we’ll get through this pandemic. Together. Please look out for more updates as our volunteer operations return to action and don’t forget to join us on Thursday for our town hall. Thank you for your support and keep being the wonderful neighbors that you are.

With my deepest gratitude,
Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director, Food & Friends

 

Previous Update from March 13th

Given the quickly evolving nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, I am writing to provide you with an update to our community. Food & Friends’ service is vital to the health and well-being of people living with serious illness. Many of our clients have no other food option without our deliveries and are the most at-risk if forced to leave their homes. Therefore, we are taking the following steps to meet their need:

  • Food & Friends has been designated an essential service by the District of Columbia, meaning that our operations are considered critical and will not be suspended by current or future emergency orders. This will allow us to continue our life-sustaining deliveries to our clients.
  • We are preparing to deliver additional shelf-stable food items should social distancing recommendations or diminished staff and volunteer capacity limit our ability to safely maintain our normal schedule. I will update you and our broader community if and when any service changes go into effect. For now, our operations are continuing with the support of staff and volunteers who are well trained in best practices for reducing the spread of infection.
  • If you are an existing volunteer and are in good health, please consider volunteering in the next few weeks. We have experienced a large number of volunteer cancellations and urgently need volunteers through the end of March. As always, please stay home if you are unwell.

Food & Friends was founded during the AIDS epidemic to serve those who were sick and isolated because of their illness. We are committed to helping our seriously ill neighbors in need even through these trying times. Please follow our website and social medial channels for real-time updates.

I am grateful to you and so many community members who have stepped up to provide additional financial and volunteer support and thank everyone for their diligence in keeping our clients healthy and nourished. If you would like to contribute to our daily operations, you can do so here.

I will continue to update you on a regular basis. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Carrie Stoltzfus, MPH
Executive Director, Food & Friends

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