Increasing food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic

Description of the collaborative
Food Gatherers is the most extensive anti-hunger program in Washtenaw County, whose mission is to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. They partner with 170 nonprofit organizations and programs in Washtenaw County to provide free groceries, hot meals, and other resources to those in need.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Food Gatherers partner agencies reported an increase of those seeking food assistance of 30 to 300 percent, and in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, 40 percent of food pantry visitors were first-time customers.
In response to this expanding need, Food Gatherers increased their distribution efforts by delivering more frequently to existing sites, and providing more food at no cost to partner programs. They also made connections with new partners to ensure that the county’s most vulnerable residents, such as children, older adults, and those at high risk of contracting COVID-19, had access to nutritious food.
Participating organizations

  • Ann Arbor Public Schools
  • Lincoln Consolidated Schools
  • Milan Area Schools
  • Washtenaw Housing Alliance
  • Whitmore Lake School District
  • Ypsilanti Community Schools

Impact on community health

  • In March and April 2020 Food Gatherers saw a 450 percent increase in “find food” phone requests and 388 percent increase in visits to the “find food” webpage
  • Food Gatherers increased the amount of free food available in the community for those that needed it, distributing 9 million pounds of food during the period July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021, a 14.5 percent increase over the prior year, which included the first three-and-a-half months of the pandemic (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020)
  • Food Gatherers has a board-approved nutrition policy and works to procure foods that our neighbors want, that support health, and that can often be more expensive to purchase. Even during the pandemic, Food Gatherers continues to meet their goal, 60 percent of total pounds are fresh produce and protein
  • Increased the number of people served, and reached new clients during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, as well as following peaks in winter 2020/2021, partner agencies saw increases of 30 to 300 percent in visits as compared to before the pandemic
  • Increased the number of food distributions each week
  • Entered into new partnerships to better serve those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19
  • Worked with school districts to address the needs of students and families needing additional food
  • Worked with agencies to expand grocery delivery programs to home-bound and high-risk residents
  • In addition to making more food available, Food Gatherers provided almost $400,000 in operational support and equipment grants to partner agencies to help them stay open and increase their services during the pandemic