Staff + volunteers + donors + community = meeting the challenge
By Sharon Rosen
Channel One Food Bank is facing its biggest challenge in its 40-year history of serving southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are facing food insecurity, and many are turning to Channel One for the first time.
During the past few weeks, the Channel One staff has rapidly developed and implemented a plan to meet the unprecedented demand for food assistance.
They haven’t done it alone.
“The phrase ‘we will get through this together’ rings true at Channel One. Our staff, volunteers, donors and community partners have come together to feed those in need. The demand for our services will continue to increase, and these ongoing collaborations are essential to help us provide nutritious food to sustain our community,” says Virginia Merritt, executive director for Channel One.
Here’s a closer look at how Channel One’s rapid response to COVID-19 has taken shape.
Shifting operations to support safe distribution of food
To meet the growing demand for food and comply with health and safety guidelines, Channel One staff shifted their operations to focus on a new model for distributing food – emergency to-go food boxes and curbside delivery.
The emergency boxes contain nonperishable food items to feed a family of four for approximately one week. Clients can drive by and pick up boxes along with fresh and frozen perishable food at Channel One’s network of food shelves and pantries.
This shift in operations took place in just days, with many of Channel One’s 32 staff members working extra hours to make the transition.
Linda Lovik, assistant director and human resources director at Channel One, has been a part of the organization for 37 years.
She’s proud of what the staff has accomplished.
“It’s been amazing to see the staff step up and find solutions to feed people in unprecedented numbers. Our warehouse, operations, food shelf, transportation and office staff have all pulled together,” says Lovik.
370 new volunteers pack more than 13,000 food boxes
During March, 370 new volunteers joined long-time supporters and Channel One staff to pack 13,845 emergency boxes for distribution across 14 counties.
Jill Adams, one of the new volunteers and director of sales and marketing for Diversified Utility Sales of America, hopes that her volunteering sends an important message to those needing Channel One’s services.
“I hope that recipients know that they are not forgotten. Each volunteer, staff member and donor can make a difference to families receiving food. Everyone matters.”
David Steenhoek, who serves as community engagement coordinator for Channel One, is grateful for all those who have come forward to help.
“We are so thankful for the volunteers who are helping us meet this urgent need. In turn, we’ve taken every precaution to prevent the spread of infection by following social distancing,
cleaning and sanitizing standards and other Centers for Disease Control recommended procedures,” he says.
320 new donors join the fight against hunger
Using emergency to-go boxes and drive by pick up has allowed food to be safely and efficiently distributed throughout the region. However, this new approach requires Channel One to purchase more nonperishable food, increasing overall costs.
That’s why the financial support provided by generous donors is so important.
“Channel One has a tremendous job to do. We are inspired by their efforts and their collaboration with community organizations to deliver food to those hit hardest by this crisis. By partnering to distribute food boxes, they are reaching those who don’t have transportation to visit a food shelf or pantry,” explains Janice Vetter, a volunteer coordinator for Olmsted County and Lutheran Social Services. She and her husband Richard have supported Channel One for more than 20 years.
During the first two weeks of Channel One’s COVID-19 response, 320 new donors have contributed funds.
“We are grateful for all of the donations that we have received so far. Each donation makes a difference, helping us take care of our neighbors, including those who have never used our services but need us in the face of business closures and layoffs,” says Jessica Sund, director of development and communications for Channel One.
Partnering and moving forward together
Channel One is also partnering with the community – the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, Rochester Public Schools, Family Service Rochester and Cradle 2 Career – to ensure that they reach those in need of food. On March 31, these partnerships enabled families to pick up free emergency boxes at several Rochester school locations.
According to Merritt, Channel One’s mission and values sum up the organization’s efforts going forward.
“Our mission is to strengthen food access and build healthy communities. We’ll keep pursuing that goal with all of our partners as we put people experiencing food insecurity at the center of everything we do.”
Learn more about Channel One, a member of Feeding America
- Are you or someone you know in need of food assistance? Get information about how to receive food here.
- Get information on volunteering to pack emergency food boxes here.
- Make a difference by donating to support Channel One’s COVID-19 response here.
- Follow Channel One’s COVID-19 response on Facebook and Instagram.
Sharon Rosen, a freelance writer and senior communications specialist at Mayo Clinic, is a member of the Channel One Food Bank Board of Directors.