Advancing Food Banks

An update from the field: “The food bankers empower me”

“The food bankers empower me to keep my drive, to do what I’m doing for them. They’re the ones on the ground – distributing food in informal settlements, seeing people literally stuck in their homes without any income or food. I really feel for them; I think about them every day when I’m sitting in my home,” shared Gabriela, GFN Field Services Officer overseeing food banks in the Middle East and Africa.

Gabriela and four colleagues comprise the Field Services team at GFN, a group that works closely with established and emerging food banks to provide technical assistance, offer significant member support, and ensure food bank certification.

Prior to COVID-19, Gabriela would meet with her 10 food banks on a quarterly or monthly basis. Since March, however, she’s been connecting with the food banks once a week, spending several hours on the phone Monday through Friday. Some of the food banks in Gabriela’s portfolio are new – in existence for just a couple of years – and became part of the GFN network in December 2019. “Right now, it’s amazing to see these food banks build capacity and serve thousands more than they were typically serving on an annual basis,” Gabriela said. “A lot of them have even surpassed the number of kilos that they rescued all last year, in just one or two months.”

One of the national food bank networks in Gabriela’s portfolio is Tkiyet Um Ali (TUA) in Jordan, which was founded in 2003 by her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein in honor of her late mother, Queen Alia. As Jordan entered one of the strictest lockdowns in the world on March 20, TUA suddenly faced a surge in demand. Huzama Fakher, TUA’s Director of International Relations, shared, “It helped to have a well-established connection with the government and relevant government entities, specifically the Ministry of Social Development. Being part of the government’s appointed national protection committee enabled TUA to get permits for field staff and continue our operations, logistics and distribution of food parcels.” In March and April, TUA distributed 65,000 food parcels. During the Holy Month of Ramadan, TUA distributed 51,942 hot meals.

Over the past 10 weeks, Leket Israel, the leading food rescue organization in Israel, provided 700,000 hot meals and 4,200 tons of produce to Israel’s hungry, a 35 percent increase over regular operations. Paul Leiba, Leket’s VP for Resource Development, shared, “In mid-March, the government restricted the movement of millions of citizens, resulting in the closure of thousands of businesses, resulting in 25 percent unemployment. The demand on our services increased dramatically. The elderly were housebound with limited access to food, and many working poor and single parent families experienced immediate financial distress and need. Israel’s catering sector came to a halt overnight, cutting to zero sources of excess prepared food. Our organization moved in a week from a food rescue to food purchase model, providing 11,000 people a day with a hot meal.”

In Turkey, lockdown measures eased June 1 and economic activity is resuming. TİDER, an Istanbul-based GFN member since 2018, launched its emergency hunger relief efforts in March. About the response effort, Nil Tibukoğlu Yurdakul, TİDER General Manager, said, “NGOs, municipalities and district governorships increased their regular support for the people in need. Donations from the private sector increased tremendously. Elderly people who were confined to their homes were delivered basic supplies by neighborhood volunteers with the support of municipalities. TİDER’s operations and its food bank network were integral to these increased supports with the help of our global donors, especially with the help of the grants provided by GFN, for which we are very grateful.”

Amid COVID-19, “Food bankers definitely have to think on their feet,” said Gabriela. “At all times, they have to be proactive and prepare. GFN has talented people who provide an invaluable personal approach to each food bank. And I think the food banks are most grateful to have a friend; they lean on us for support, technical and financial assistance, and assurance and advice.”

It is partners like you that make the vital work that Gabriela leads possible. Thank you for your engagement in the fight against hunger. It is needed now more than ever. Please keep visiting our COVID-19 response page for up-to date information.

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