Up to 811 million people.
That’s how many people went hungry across the globe in 2020, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, a report issued by the UN.
The COVID-19 pandemic monumentally impacted child hunger and malnutrition. It forced more than 1.6 billion children out of the classroom in 199 countries, depriving nearly 370 million children access to the nutritious meals they received at school. Often, these meals are a child’s only consistent source of nutritious food.
In the United States, the pandemic also magnified significant racial disparities in food insecurity. While this inequity existed for generations before the pandemic, the combined forces of job losses and reduced access to social support systems in the pandemic’s wake dealt yet another blow in the fight against hunger.
A Big Idea with a Big Result
At United Way, we take on the biggest challenges—in new ways. That’s why our Ride United: Last Mile Delivery program won awards in 2021 for innovation and impact. This program’s result is 8.5+ million meals delivered. This spotlight recognizes the collaboration between United Way, 211, DoorDash, TikTok, PetSmart Charities and other national and local partners driving the program’s success.
Ride United: Last Mile Delivery provides those in need with free deliveries of food and essential items such as personal care supplies for infants and seniors, food and supplies for pets and service animals, and educational supplies for students. The free “last mile” door-to-door deliveries of food from area food banks, food pantries and other distribution points to senior citizens, low-income families and those who can’t leave home is making a big difference during the pandemic.
The last mile feature was a major expansion—to 340 cities and towns across 17 states—of the existing Ride United initiative. As the pandemic sparked rising levels of hunger across the United States, United Way knew an innovative solution had to be found. As a hyper-local tool to combat this new wave of hunger, United Way and a national 211 network work with local food pantries to identify the community members in need of these essential deliveries.
211 is a vital service supported by United Way that connects people to essential health and human services. Anyone in need can call 211 or visit 211.org to get connected to local resources in the U.S. and Canada.
Since launching early last year, Ride United: Last Mile Delivery has provided more than 668,000 free deliveries, including 8.5+ million meals. More than 34,000 households received food pantry boxes, meals and other essential items. This April, the program expanded to include pet food deliveries, to ensure pet owners can keep their pets healthy during tough times, without sacrificing their personal nutrition and supporting the human-animal bond.
United Way’s goal next year is 1.5 million deliveries across 30 states -- more than double the food currently provided to hungry Americans through this innovative approach.
The scaling of this innovation made an impression on Innovation Leader, which focuses on innovation in corporate America, that led it to recognize the United Way program with one of its prestigious Impact Awards in November. Judge Al Callier of Jiffy.ai noted that United Way Worldwide “achieved significant impact, at large scale, during a critical time.”
The Business Intelligence Group recognized United Way’s innovative approach with its prestigious BIG Innovation Award in January 2021. “More than ever, global society relies on innovation to help progress humanity and make our lives more productive, healthy and comfortable,” said Maria Jimenez, Chief Operating Officer of the Business Intelligence Group.
“We are thrilled to honor United Way Worldwide as one of the organizations leading this charge and helping humanity progress.”
Reducing the barriers to receiving food and increasing access for vulnerable populations isn’t something United Way does alone. Across the nation, local partners have stepped up to provide this opportunity in their communities. Our partners include not only food pantries and food banks, but also schools, government agencies, other non-profits, restaurants, faith-based organizations, grocers, and more. It’s just one example of the kind of innovative thinking, partnership and programs that United Way is driving.
A Recipe for a Healthier Childhood
Ravi is not quite three years old. His parents, both laborers, persistently lack access to nutritious foods and are challenged to create healthy eating habits in their home. Ravi’s diet often contains foods with poor nutritional value. United Way of Bengaluru is helping families such as Ravi’s by working through local mothers’ groups to share nutritional information and healthy food habits moms can bring home to their families.
Ravi’s mother has embraced what she’s learned and practices her newfound dietary habits daily in her household, thanks to a ready-made recipe book she received from United Way of Bengaluru. Her family is now eating better, and, at this critical stage of Ravi’s childhood development, his health is noticeably improved.
Fighting Rural Hunger One Box At a Time
With Central Iowa facing one of the nation’s lowest rates of fruit and vegetable consumption, United Way of Central Iowa works to increase the availability of and access to fresh, healthy food. When the COVID-19 pandemic layered its crushing impact on Iowan communities, access to fresh food became even more difficult.
One of United Way’s local partner organizations, Eat Greater Des Moines, is helping bring solutions through its “Operation: Fresh Produce Drop” program (OFPD). This program works with United Way and other local agencies to deliver fresh dairy and produce throughout the region.
Each week the United Way-funded initiative delivered over 2,300 USDA boxes of produce and dairy a week. When the program ended in May 2021, OFPD had moved more than 3 million pounds of fresh, healthy food to 125+ different local organizations.
Remarkably, it’s estimated that 80% of OFPD recipients had not had prior access to emergency food resources due to existing barriers. This program is part of a larger United Way-led coalition working to enhance access to Medicaid, food and child care assistance. OFPD was able to overcome those obstacles by using its expansive network of partners, churches, and refugee and immigrant-serving organizations to reach youth programs, aﬀordable housing communities and in-home daycare operations that had previously not had consistent access to fresh food.