Bridging the gap between families and hunger during COVID-19

By Laura Lester, Executive Director of Alabama Food Banks

Republished with permission from Laura Lester. Originally published on on September 6, 2020. Click here to see original article.

The Alabama Food Bank Association is comprised of the four food banks and four distribution centers that partner with Feeding America to serve Alabama residents across the state. Our members and their more than 1,600 partner agencies are hard at work assisting hungry Alabamians financially impacted by Covid-19.

Even before the pandemic, residents throughout Alabama have had to make difficult decisions to avoid hunger in their homes. In central Alabama, a 2019 study by the Community Food Bank showed that people who sought their help have had to sacrifice medical care, rent, utilities, and other essentials just to eat. In 2020, job loss and other pandemic-related problems have only exacerbated that situation, and our food banks desperately require financial support to meet the rising needs.

The state of Alabama has the power to alleviate our food banks most immediate funding concerns through grant money provided by the CARES ACT. It is our sincere hope that Governor Kay Ivey will recognize the importance of these food banks and allocate sufficient funds to our efforts.

CARES Act grants are distributed at the discretion of the state, and only $15,000 is available per non-profit. In Alabama, each individual food bank must apply for CARES support, and many non-profits are all competing for the funding at a time when we are already overwhelmed by an unprecedented need.

In Alabama, as many as 400,000 children count on their schools for at least one meal per day. When school is not in session, the Alabama Food Bank Association typically provides much needed meals for students through the Summer Meals Program. This service ensures children 18 years and younger are properly fed when school lunches are not available. Last year, we were able to serve more than 68,000 lunch meals for over 4,000 children in communities throughout the state.

As Alabama’s school systems moved to virtual schooling in the spring, our summer feeding programs stepped up to ensure children in Alabama were fed. For the first time in Alabama history the Summer Meals Program operated for more than 20 weeks. ALFBA’s program reached more than 10,000 children and served nearly $1 million worth of meals.

As the pandemic has persisted into the summer, we’ve seen an increase in need, yet a decrease in income sources. Community efforts like our annual galas and fundraisers couldn’t be held this year for public safety concerns, and that has interrupted much-needed funding opportunities that we’ve counted on year after year, at a time when the money is most directly needed.

Feeding the Gulf Coast, the food bank covering lower Alabama, faced a 30 percent increase in need across their community, and they’re expected to see that need remain or even rise to 38 percent through the rest of the year. That 30 percent spike translates to about 8,378,000 additional meals. The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama reports that they spent more on food in one month and a half in 2020 that they paid in all of 2019. They’re currently seeking support for their Summer Hunger Challenge, with the goal of providing 500,000 meals in Birmingham and other central Alabama communities.

To further complicate the challenges we face this year, our work has also been slowed by the necessary precautions we must take to ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers, and the people we serve. Most local food banks have had to alter their operations due to safety concerns in limiting the spread of COVID-19. This could mean fewer people on hand to process donations and distribute meals.

Some sites have adopted a mobile food component or no-touch model distribution pick-up system to adapt to the ongoing circumstances. Food banks have also had to purchase additional PPE, and those extra costs have cut notably into their available funds. Our four locations across the state count on retailers for up to 50 percent of our stock, and this year’s food supply shortages have caused a drop in donations from these grocery stores. Months after the shutdown, it’s still hard to stock up on staples like canned vegetables.

Even as our non-profits must petition and compete for limited financial support in Alabama, we have seen that other states allocate higher amounts directly for their food banks. In Tennessee, the state has designated the Second Harvest Food Bank to directly distribute funds to food banks for Emergency Food Assistance, and in Mississippi, $8 million in CARES money has been allocated for non-profits, with half of that specifically designated for food banks.

In Florida, Brevard County alone set aside $4 million to help food banks care for their population of 500,000 people. New Jersey used a portion of their CARES funds to distribute $20 million across five food banks within the state. The $15,000 available to a single Alabama food bank would be quickly depleted during normal operations, and clearly wouldn’t stretch as far as we need it under these difficult circumstances. The funds that our food banks received earlier this spring were prompt and much appreciated, but we can plainly see that we will need renewed support and broader access to CARES funding.

Providing food to those in need is an essential service. During a pandemic, the need for proper support for our food banks has only been heightened. We are grateful for those who donate food items and funds to our banks, and for the groups and religious institutions that provide much-needed help, but we will require greater support from the state itself to continue fighting hunger in the midst of this crisis.

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Meat + Three Podcast Features ECHA County Food Guide Project

From the website:
“On this week’s episode of Meat and Three, we are heading back to school. This year, the first day at school looks a lot different. From daycares to universities, every institution is operating under a different model – and that includes their plans for how students will eat. We bring you reports from cafeterias, take a look at how schools are supporting students who require subsidized lunch, and explore some tips for teaching young kids about nutrition from the comfort of their homes.”

Find the original post here. Thank you to Kat Johnson of Heritage Radio Network for sharing information about the ECHA County Food Guide Project!

Student Broadband Access and COVID-19

Broadband access has become a highlight of student needs during this time online learning with students needing to rely on home internet for online instruction. Join us this Thursday as the Alabama Department of Economics and Community Affairs (ADECA) leads a conversation on how to address the growing student need for consistent broadband access on and off campus. 

When: Thursday, September 3, 2020, 1-3pm CDT
Hosted by: Alabama Department of Economics and Community Affairs  
Zoom Connectivity Information
Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:
Meeting ID: 922 3396 2366

Or Telephone:
Meeting ID: 922 3396 2366   
Dial: +1 301 715 8592 (US Toll) or +1 312 626 6799 (US Toll)

USDA Extends Free Meals for Kids Through December 31, 2020

Summer meal programs can continue operating as funding allows

(Washington, DC, August 31, 2020) – Today, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will extend several flexibilities through as late as December 31, 2020. The flexibilities allow summer meal program operators to continue serving free meals to all children into the fall months. This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the Congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available.

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” said Secretary Perdue. “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually – so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments.”

“School Nutrition Association greatly appreciates USDA addressing the critical challenges shared by our members serving students on the frontlines these first weeks of school. These waivers will allow school nutrition professionals to focus on nourishing hungry children for success, rather than scrambling to process paperwork and verify eligibility in the midst of a pandemic.” said School Nutrition Association (SNA) President Reggie Ross, SNS. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with USDA to ensure school meal programs are equipped to meet the future needs of America’s students.”  

“Today’s announcement brings a huge relief to our school meal program and the community we serve,” said Lindsay Aguilar, RD, SNS, Director of Food Services for Tucson Unified School District, AZ. “Many of our families who might not qualify for free meals are still going through a tough time and are worried about how to keep food on the table. Now their children will have one less thing to worry about as they adjust to evolving in-school and remote learning scenarios. These waivers also eliminate a massive administrative burden for our school nutrition staff, allowing them to focus on feeding children.”   

“These waivers will ensure every hungry child in the city of Cleveland has access to healthy school meals, while eliminating the burdensome, time consuming process of verifying and documenting enrollment,” said Chris Burkhardt, SNS, Executive Director of School Nutrition for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, OH. “Our school nutrition team had to develop and implement a bar code verification system this fall that has greatly complicated and slowed service. With these waivers, we’ll be able to speed up meal distribution for the safety of staff and families and ensure no student is denied access to healthy meals.”  

Background:USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is extending a suite of nationwide waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the end of 2020, or until available funding runs out. This includes:

  1.  Allowing SFSP and SSO meals to be served in all areas and at no cost;
  2. Permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and meal times;
  3. Waiving meal pattern requirements as necessary; and
  4. Allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children.

Collectively, these flexibilities ensure meal options for children continue to be available so children can access meals under all circumstances. USDA is taking this unprecedented action to respond to the needs of its stakeholders, who have shared concerns about continuing to reach those in need without enlisting the help of traditional summer sites located throughout communities across the US. While there have been some well-meaning people asking USDA to fund this through the entire 2020-2021 school year, we are obligated to not spend more than is appropriated by Congress.

Importantly, the summer meal program waiver extensions announced today are based on current data estimations. Over the past six months, partners across the country have stood up nearly 80,000 sites, handing out meals at a higher reimbursement rate than the traditional school year program. USDA has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far we may be able to provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year. Reporting activities are delayed due to States responding to the pandemic; however based upon the April data we currently have available, FNS projects that it could offer this extension, contingent on funding, for the remaining months of 2020. USDA will continue to actively monitor this rapidly evolving situation and continue to keep Congress informed of our current abilities and limitations.

Since the start of the public health emergency, FNS has been maximizing existing program services and flexibilities to ensure those in need have access to food through our 15 federal nutrition assistance programs. To date, USDA has provided more than 3,000 flexibilities across these programs. USDA has also leveraged new and innovative approaches to feeding kids, including a public-private partnership that provided nearly 40 million meals directly to the doorsteps of low-income rural children. For more information on FNS’ response to COVID-19, visit

Alabama School Districts Using Buses to Deliver Meals to Remote Learning Students

Reposted with permission by the author, Trish Cain. Originally published August 22, 2020 at .

Alabama students who opted for remote learning will still be able to get meals from their schools. Several school districts are going the extra mile to not only make them available, but also to deliver meals to students.

Pickens County superintendent Jamie Chapman said his district is moving forward with a pilot program, delivering meals to remote learning students via bus routes in communities where the need is high.

When schools closed last March, schools there made meals available, but they had to be picked up from the school. 

“We’ve got a lot of kids in rural Pickens County that struggled to get to the meal pick-up sites in the spring,” Chapman said. Community partners and volunteers helped deliver meals to students, but Chapman wanted to try to find a way for the schools to get meals directly to the district’s most vulnerable students.

More than 75% of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, Chapman said. 

A fair number of students there will be doing remote learning, whether they chose all virtual or traditional, where students will be in school two days a week for now. 

The rules for how schools handle school meals for remote learning students in the new school year are different from the rules in place last spring when school buildings were officially closed for students. 

School Superintendents of Alabama Executive Director Ryan Hollingsworth said a waiver issued by the USDA last spring made delivering meals to students through community centers and bus routes  easier because school staff could serve meals to any and all children 18-and-under without verifying enrollment or income status.

That waiver expires either the first day of school or Aug. 31, whichever comes first.

Hollingsworth said education officials at the state and national level are pushing for the USDA to extend the waiver. 

Without that waiver, schools now have to ensure the child is enrolled and verify their meal eligibility status. Students will be expected to pay full price for meals unless they qualify for free or reduced-price meals.  

Verification and exchanging payment can be difficult tasks to complete on a school bus route. 

Chapman knows it’s going to be more complicated and require more effort for school officials to deliver meals to students through bus routes without the waiver. 

“We’re very hopeful and prayerful that we’ll get a waiver again,” Chapman said. “If we got a waiver, we could feed them all, and we could be very successful in this.” 

Having access to meals at school is “extremely important,” Hollingsworth said. “For lots of our children, the only solid meals they have are breakfast and lunch, and they’re getting those at school.”  

“If a child is not healthy, if they’re hungry, obviously they’re not going to do well (at school). They’re not worried about reading and math,” he added. 

Pickens County schools posted notice on social media that buses will deliver meals on Aug. 28. If students are able to make it to the school, meals can be picked up at each school from 10 a.m. until 12 noon, beginning Aug. 21. 

Jefferson County schools, which start with remote learning only on Sept. 8, are also planning to run school bus routes to deliver meals according to information posted to their website. Details of where and when buses will run haven’t been released. 

Eufaula City Schools published a list of bus routes where school meals will be available when school starts Aug. 24. All students in the city district are eligible for free meals, but students still will need to be identified as enrolled in the district. 

Other school districts will offer curbside pickup for remote learning students, but that still means students have to find a way to get to the school to pick up their meals. 

When school buildings closed during the spring and the summer, officials used various methods to get food to schoolchildren. 

USDA waivers made the process easier, officials said, allowing meals to be served to all children 18-and-under and also to be distributed in bulk packaging like gallons of milk rather than individual servings. 

Some districts distributed food on a weekly basis, allowing families to pick up a week’s worth of meals, while other schools offered pickups multiple days of the week. 

Students in as many as 31 Alabama school districts, most of them in rural areas, participated in the Baylor University Meals to You program which delivered meals to students’ homes through the mail or other package carrier. That program ended on Aug. 15.

The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or P-EBT, program in May provided federal benefits, more than $300 per child, to eligible families to cover the cost of meals that students missed because of spring school closures.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources, which administered the P-EBT program, told the department distributed nearly $131.4 million in federal food assistance to more than 455,000 children in nearly 350,000 households from May to July.

Acknowledging that the additional verification procedures probably mean that everything won’t go perfectly, Chapman said, “We’re certainly going to try.”

“We’re trying to get the word out,” Chapman said. “We’re gonna try as best we can to serve our kids, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll have to go to Plan B. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what Plan B is right now.” 

SNAP Benefits to Increase in Fiscal Year 2021

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2020 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) today released its June 2020 Cost of Foods Report, announcing a more than 5% increase in the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan from last year. This increase is more than double the 20-year annual average increase of around 2%. Based on this new update, beginning October 1, 2020, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants’ maximum monthly benefit allotment will be at the highest level in the history of the program.

“The Thrifty Food Plan is designed to adjust to changing economic conditions and support Americans during tough times,” said FNS Administrator Pam Miller. “This adjustment will not only help SNAP participants during this unprecedented crisis but will also support the American farmers, ranchers, fishers, and producers who are working hard throughout this pandemic to keep our grocery stores stocked with nutritious, domestic products.”


The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, which governs SNAP, requires that the average cost of foods in the marketplace be used to adjust the maximum SNAP benefit allotments from year-to-year. The food costs reported in June of a given fiscal year are used to calculate the SNAP maximum allotments for the next fiscal year (October through September).

The new maximum benefit – or allotment – for a household of four will be $680, an approximate 5.3% increase over the current maximum allotment of $646. Current SNAP recipients may see an increase in benefits beginning in October, if there are no changes in their household circumstances.

This adjustment in SNAP benefits complements the many actions USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has taken to date to help American families put food on the table during the coronavirus pandemic. Other measures include:

Allowing states to issue emergency supplemental SNAP benefits totaling more than $2 billion per month, increasing SNAP benefits by 40%;
Expanding the online purchasing pilot to 47 states, covering more than 90% of all SNAP households;
Waiving certain administrative requirements to make it easier for states to serve their SNAP clients during the pandemic;
Implementing Pandemic EBT, which is providing benefits similar to SNAP to 99% of children normally receiving free or reduced-price school meals;
Debuting the “Meals for Kids” interactive site finder to help families find free meals for children at more than 77,000 locations while schools are closed;
Supporting food banks with over $6 billion worth of food and administrative resources;
Providing a $50 million boost in food assistance through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations; and
Supporting the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, which is delivering American-grown and produced foods to low income households.
To learn more about FNS’s response to COVID-19, visit and follow us on Twitter at @USDANutrition.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy.

Additional Resources:

Introducing the ECHA County Food Guides

End Child Hunger in Alabama has launched the ECHA County Food Guide Project, a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to all food resources in the state of Alabama, including food pantries, soup kitchens, farmers markets, SNAP and WIC resources, and more. Join us this Thursday to learn how to utilize this tool on your campuses and with your students. 

When: July 30, 2020, 1-3pm CDT

Hosted by: End Child Hunger in Alabama, an initiative of the Hunger Solutions Institute

View the Agenda

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:

Or Telephone:
Meeting ID: 922 3396 2366
    Dial: +1 301 715 8592 (US Toll) 
        or +1 312 626 6799 (US Toll)

New Color-Coded Map Highlights Alabama Counties’ COVID-19 Risk

Screenshot of the interactive map at 11am CDT on July 6th, 2020.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has released a new interactive map that displays a color-coded picture of residents’ risk for contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). See the map here.

In addition, the ADPH has released guidelines for behavior for Alabama residents to correspond with each level of color-coded risk: