Emergency food relief in india. Sanjoy Karmakar/shutterstock
Emergency food relief in india. Sanjoy Karmakar/shutterstock

For a global pandemic, COVID-19 has a decided number of U.S. funders thinking locally. That’s understandable, as the coronavirus shocks neighboring systems. Seventy percent of the hordes showing up at a Dallas food pantry last week said they were there for the first time—and were surprised to find themselves in line.

Until now, the great majority of the world’s hungry lived in developing countries. Yet if COVID-19 is impacting food security in high-income countries like the United States, imagine its effect on people in low- and moderate-income countries, and the vulnerable souls living in conflict-scarred parts of the world.

The underlying issues that have people lining up in Texas are universal. The ILO estimates that the livelihoods of close to half of the global workforce are at risk. In Africa alone, a country where roughly 71 percent of the workforce is informally employed, an estimated 150 million workers face unemployment—and without safety nets.

More than 135 million people in 55 countries required urgent food security interventions before COVID hit. Now, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has doubled that estimate to a quarter of a billion people by the end of 2020. Who’s stepping in to help?

Thinking Globally

The early funders thinking globally on food insecurity have been corporate and individual donors. As recently covered in Inside Philanthropy, a majority of corporations and their foundations included local and domestic hunger initiatives in their COVID-19 philanthropic response, through partners from Feeding America to local food pantries.

A smaller number, primarily from the financial services and food sectors, took global action, working through two partners: the Global Foodbanking Network and the World Food Programme.

The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), whose COVID-19 efforts support food banks in 43 countries, are calling the post-virus demand unprecedented everywhere, and a real threat to countries that already struggle with hunger issues.

GFN’s COVID-19 Response Fund is addressing food insecurity by providing food banks with technical support to reach at-risk populations, recovering agricultural surpluses, and enlisting governments and businesses in the fight. Recognizing that 91 percent of the world’s students have been affected by school closures, GFN partnered with the Global Child Nutrition Foundation to provide nearly 3.5 million school-age children with meals, through food banks in 18 countries.

The fund has attracted significant corporate support, mostly from multinationals. From the financial services arena, it drew a half-million-dollar donation from BlackRock to meet emerging needs in Asia and Latin America, and $1 million from Bank of America to support food banks in Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. As schools remained closed, the Macquarie Group Foundation made a $1.2 million investment in the network, to provide meals for homebound children through more than 900 food banks. The Pimco Foundation, the philanthropic vehicle of fixed income investment manager, PIMCO, and wealth manager Northern Trust also supported the fund.

The food and beverage sector also made a strong showing. The PepsiCo Foundation donated $6.5 million. And the Kellogg Company Fund, Ingredion, and General Mills all made investments, along with founding member, Cargill. Other support came from the foundations of property and casualty insurer, Chubb, and the global construction and mining equipment leader, Caterpillar.

Mary Jane Melendez, General Mills’ Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer, says that the company’s support recognizes that food banks are “more dispensable than ever,” as the “pandemic strains families and communities globally.”

The organization has seen donations rise by 2.4 percent, with 30 percent coming from new donors. Welcome news, as its networks report an increase in demand from 50 to more than 100 percent—up to five times normal capacities.

The World Food Program USA 

The World Food Program USA (WFP USA) is the U.S.-based nonprofit affiliate of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), a humanitarian agency that’s the world’s first responder on hunger issues and pandemics around the globe.

WFP’s COVID-19 response efforts include prepositioning food in at-risk areas to ensure three months of nutrition, easing and establishing supply chains, and targeting at-risk populations like children and the elderly. WFP is also finding ways to feed out-of-school students, and creating international cargo hubs to distribute supplies from global to regional network hubs.

To help WFP achieve those goals, WFP USA set a $5 million funding goal for its COVID-19 response in mid-March. Within two weeks it exceeded that, with the help of corporate and individual donors, 30 percent of which were new.

WFP USA drew what it described as “six and seven-figure gifts” from existing corporate partners including UPS, Cargill, Bank of America, Herbalife and Sealed Air. Mars, Inc. reported contributing $2 million. And new companies like Allegis, Toro and C.H Robinson joined in supporting its efforts. By May 30, WFP USA hopes to meet an increased goal of $8 million.

Michelle Grogg, Vice President Global Corporate Responsibility at Cargill, said supporting WFP is part of the company’s commitment to working with NGOs around the globe to address the food security, health and safety impacts of the virus, recognizing that, “During this time, vulnerable children and families are facing food insecurity at unprecedented levels.”

Only the concerted effort of other like-minded funders can stop a dangerous trajectory, at a time when global SDG goals hoped to eradicate hunger by 2030.


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