Elizabeth Baptist Church members Dimitri Yates (left) and Johnny Smith (right) give a family in need boxes of groceries and toiletries during an Atlanta Community Food Bank and Fulton County Schools collaborative distribution in Atlanta, Thursday, April 9, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Opinion: Let’s reduce hunger here this summer and beyond

One in four metro Atlanta children are at risk of not having enough food this summer. Metro Atlanta is coming together to help. Growing these efforts beyond the summer through innovation will flatten the hunger curve, reducing the spread of food insecurity and helping enhance the long-term prospects for vulnerable kids and families.

Driven by unprecedented job losses, our local food-insecure population has increased by more than 40%, with one million of our neighbors now struggling to access all the food they need. That’s more than at any point in our history.

Facing an unprecedented level of hunger, our community has responded with unprecedented generosity. Gov. Brian Kemp deployed 200 members of the Georgia National Guard to support food distribution efforts at food banks. The philanthropic community mobilized to raise tens of millions of dollars to support feeding programs. New feeding initiatives were launched overnight by companies and nonprofits. The Atlanta Community Food Bank has grown food distribution by 40%, providing more than 20 million meals to struggling families since March 16. Together, as a community, we are providing more food to more people than we ever have.

We have come together to meet the moment of this crisis. But our work is not done. With less food available through schools and other sources, families with children face greater challenges getting enough food during the summer.

Feeding programs across the community are responding. This includes an exciting new initiative - the Atlanta Community Kitchen. A joint project of the Food Bank and Second Helpings Atlanta, our region’s largest food rescue nonprofit, this effort uses “dark” commercial kitchens to produce meals for struggling kids and families, putting displaced foodservice staff back to work along the way.

Atlanta Community Kitchen will provide 500,000 meals to kids and families this summer. Business and nonprofits are working together to make this happen. The Rotary Club of Atlanta has provided start-up funding and additional financial support. The Falcons and the Hawks are donating meals they produce in their stadium kitchens. The Home Depot and Chick-fil-A have chipped in 10,000 meals each. Sysco Foods is providing food to our partners at cost to support the initiative. Second Helpings collects the meals on a daily basis and delivers them to a variety of food distribution sites across the region. More partners will join. Together we will help make this summer a little easier for thousands of kids.

What happens after the summer?

Our goal is to sustain the Atlanta Community Kitchen beyond the summer, adding one more platform for providing food assistance to our growing food distribution capacity. But we have to think bigger. One million of our neighbors need help today. A similar number, or perhaps more, will need help in January. How will we continue to feed them?

Working together across sectors – government, nonprofits, businesses, philanthropy – we can build models that leverage our individual assets (kitchen capacity, logistics, funding) to create solutions. We can develop delivery and mobility solutions that eliminate barriers to food access for homebound seniors or families that lack reliable transportation. We can build data models that help us target food assistance to high-need communities in more precise ways. We can build partnerships that help us identify at-risk families before they need help, getting them food faster and accelerating their path back to stability. We can invest together in food processing capacity for freezing and preserving surplus produce and dairy, produced here in Georgia, so that it can help support kids in school and families in need.

An unprecedented challenge presents us with an unprecedented opportunity for innovation. Working together, we can increase community resources for feeding families. The cost of not doing so? The families struggling today will recover more slowly. Our community and economy will recover more slowly, impacting long-term prospects for all of us.

Through collaboration and innovation, we can flatten the curve of hunger, this summer and beyond. We can each play a role. The Food Bank, Second Helpings, and many others can help you plug in. Come join us.

Kyle Waide is president and CEO of Atlanta Community Food Bank. Through a network of 600 nonprofit partners, the Atlanta Community Food Bank provides nearly 2 million meals a week across metro Atlanta and north Georgia. Andrea Jaron is executive director of Second Helpings Atlanta. It is a nonprofit food rescue logistics organization dedicated to reducing hunger and food waste in the metro Atlanta area by rescuing healthy, nutritious, surplus food and distributing it to those in need.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

X