Published 12:00 p.m. ET 28 April 2020
The governor has urged Michiganders to “stay home, stay safe,” but in this age of extreme social distance, getting adequate food and supplies for vulnerable households is a challenge.
For low-income individuals, public health recommendations for staying home, limiting food travel, and buying in bulk are almost impossible. The current emergency food system is fragmented by rules, eligibility and limits on the amount of food provided, which requires families to navigate complex systems with different days, times, and locations, often changing schedules from day to day.
The average family that relies on the emergency food system might have to go to their local school to pick up breakfast and lunch, go to a mass food distribution event, use the local food kitchen to pick up other supplies and then go to the grocery store whenever possible, use cash and the benefits of SNAP for providing fresh food. When everything goes according to plan, the result is four to seven food trips, a large amount of time and planning, and the assumption that each household has adequate transportation and gas money.
This system forces our most vulnerable populations, who have experienced many health injustices, to leave their homes more, increase the number of interactions, and certainly increase the potential for transmission of this virus.
It is the responsibility of the emergency food system to collaborate and coordinate food resources to better serve this vulnerable population and reduce transmission, to support health professionals who struggle at the forefront of caring for patients. It is very important that emergency food providers examine all potential solutions to streamline services and use innovation to adequately feed households in a respectful and safe manner.
My four suggestions for potential solutions include:
Combine food resources and supplies throughout the program. Many federal programs have restrictions that limit the population served, the type of food, and the method of delivery. Organizations with unlimited funds can partner with federal-funded school meals for children to help families get more food sources in one location.
Increase the amount of food provided per interaction. Many schools have started to provide seven days of meals (breakfast and lunch) during one visit. Food pantry can also increase the amount of food provided in one trip.
Expand eligibility for non-designated funding sources. Many federal programs have expanded services to children, but there are limited choices for hungry adults, and the increasing need for food for individuals who are unemployed due to coronavirus. Charities with unlimited funds must consider the temporary expansion of eligibility to fill important food gaps for adults.
Give immediate delivery. People who do not have transportation, homelessness, and those who are at high risk of corona virus (eg, elderly and individuals with impaired immunity) should receive food delivery for one week at their door to reduce the risk of public exposure to the corona virus.
These and other steps will help reduce the number of direct interactions in the emergency food system and slow the transmission of the corona virus. These steps are crucial to enacting the current public health recommendations of “Stay at Home, Stay Safe,” and support a depressed health care system.
Jennifer F. Lucarelli is associate professor and chair of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at Oakland University in the School of Health Sciences.
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