Edelman has been doing pro-bono work with the Urban School Food Alliance. Katie Wilson, executive director of the group and former Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke to the Edelman global team yesterday. Her team is working in twelve of the largest school districts in the country, including Boston and Dallas. Here are the important points from her talk:
- The Number of Students Being Fed is Rising — About one-third of the 22 million students eligible for USDA subsidized meals are taking them. But now there is a 50 percent rise in students eligible due to the sudden surge in unemployment.
- It is Not Just the Students — The parents are coming to schools for food. There are more families in crisis. The schools will turn nobody away; they are now the feeding hub of the community.
- Shortage of Protective Gear — Those serving school lunch are often doing so unprotected or with homemade PPE (personal protective equipment). There is just not enough PPE to cover them.
- Many Costs Being Incurred Beyond Food — USDA is covering the cost of the meal. But now there is need for refrigerated vehicles to take the meals to distributed locations. Some school districts will not open their buildings so tents must be set up outside on the lawn to distribute meals.
- Need to Pay Double Time to Attract Workers — In order to attract the team members to do the work in an unprotected and sometimes chaotic environment, the Alliance is having to pay up to 250 percent of normal salary.
- The System is Complicated — The school districts are running substantial deficits. By June 30, it is estimated that the twelve systems will have accumulated $35 million in losses by serving meals to adults or renting tents or feeding children of parents newly unemployed. The district must apply to the state which applies to the Federal Government for waivers of policies enabling more money to flow. This is a glacial process at best.
- Money is Running Out — The average school district has three months of operating cash at the present service rate. The food will run out by summer. That’s why the Alliance is calling on individuals and corporations to spur contributions. Details on how organizations or individuals can support the cause can be found here.
I also wanted to give you the latest update from Dr. David Nabarro, World Health Organization Special Envoy for Covid-19. He said that everyone around the globe must understand that the containment and management of the pandemic is a collective and personal responsibility. Dr. Nabarro said people must “isolate if we feel any symptoms, to contact all whom we have seen in the prior week so that they too choose to isolate. The chain of transmission must be broken. This will be in part a challenge for communications.”
I have never been more inspired in my career. I am seeing teams turn out incredible work, for Hawaii Tourism sharing aloha from the islands in a time when people need it most, for Unilever U.S. in declaring a Day of Service in which it will donate one day’s worth of the products produced at its 12 factories to frontline aid organizations and helping KFC launch its 1M Pieces of Chicken initiative through which the chain shipped each U.S. restaurant an additional case of chicken at no cost for them to cook and donate in their local communities. Now we go through the fire, knowing that what we do matters more than ever. We must keep going, to help our clients to see that they must offer solutions instead of selling, to be a force for decency and truth.
Richard Edelman is CEO.