Tennessee business groups step up to fight child hunger
By MARY HANCE
NASHVILLE (AP) — The number of Middle Tennessee children at risk of hunger has jumped from one in seven to more than one in four as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, a group of local businesses is trying to change that and help feed those children and their families.
As a result of the pandemic, schools are not in session so children are unable to easily access free or reduced cost lunches and many of their parents are out of work, causing them to live with reduced incomes.
The food insecurity statistic comes from Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and Feeding America, which defines “at risk of hunger” as not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
The companies, BluWave LP, CapitalSpring and Bailey Southwell & Co., formed a “Business Builders” consortium, and wrangled the support of friends and associates to fight hunger in Nashville, raising $62,775 in a few weeks.
“We are all very fortunate, we still have jobs; we’re safe and sound and have food on the table,” said Sean Mooney, CEO of BluWave.
He said that when unemployment jumped from 3 percent to almost 15 percent as the pandemic began, and the schools where so much food is distributed, shut down, “we were all asking ourselves what we could do to help.”
Mooney said that as his team and the other businesses talked about hunger, especially the heartbreak of hungry children who would not be getting the usual school breakfast and lunch, “we wanted to do something.”
“There are a lot of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” he said. “We all have kids and we knew there had to be a lot of trouble with food for the children.”
The demand for food has jumped from 600,000 pounds a week to a million pounds a week in the wake of COVID, according to Second Harvest. That staggering million pound a week demand — a 40 percent increase over this time last year — has held steady for months.
At the same time, donations of food are down, and distribution and other expenses are up. To make matters worse, Second Harvest’s fundraising events have had to be canceled, and a record number of people are out of work, and will soon see their unemployment benefits shrink.
The delay of opening of schools, where so many children get their daily meals, adds another challenge to the food bank’s efforts.
Mooney said the food bank is stretched thinner than ever. “They are panicked, with school not opening and with them already at a deficit. And it is only getting worse.”
We know a lot of people and we started calling people we know one by one,” Mooney said. “We wanted to be a bridge.”
Richard Fitzgerald, with CapitalSpring, said the “yes-es” to donate kept coming from the people they called. “Five thousand quickly became ten, became 50 and now we are at more than $120,000” when you figure in the impact of an anonymous summer match that Second Harvest had in place through mid July.
“Businesses we work with were looking for a way to help, and they just needed a unified effort to join and that’s what we offered,” Fitzgerald said.
I know that hundreds of local businesses support Second Harvest and other essential nonprofits in countless wonderful and generous ways. This coalition is but one example of that “giving back” spirit that is so needed right now.
Ally Parsons at Second Harvest says this virtual food drive is a unique way to give back without being in person. “The Business Builders of Nashville is the largest Virtual Food Drive we’ve had during the pandemic. We hope other businesses and individuals are inspired by their success,” she said.
Mooney said his Business Builders group will continue to invite the broader business community to get involved. “With so many new companies coming to Nashville, we want to create awareness of this. I think there are a lot of people waiting to be asked,” he said. “We want to turn our first phase of support into something even bigger.”
Denise Muniz, Second Harvest development officer, said, “To have this group call us and say, ‘we want to help,’ and then deliver so much support so quickly has really been a Godsend. Without their help, thousands of kids would be going without food this summer.”
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