With schools closed and unemployment at a record high – particularly for those working in the service industries – food insecurity has become a more urgent issue associated with the coronavirus. Among those impacted are students receiving weekend meals – or backpacks – through a partnership linking the Food Bank of Delaware, the Harry K Foundation, and committed community partners.
At peak distribution, 6,280 children received bags through the Backpack Program in the 2018-2019 school year –187,183 meal bags were distributed through 197 statewide sites.
The Harry K Foundation, founded by Harry Keswani, is dedicated to raising funds to eliminate childhood hunger. Mr. Keswani remains focused on that mission despite the challenges created during the COVID-19 pandemic. His business, a Rehoboth Beach jewelry store, was among those ordered closed by Gov. John Carney, but Mr. Keswani continues foundation work from his home.
“The virus has changed everything,” he said, noting that prior to mid-March, there were 46 school pantries statewide. He’s been working with small community groups to continue his mission. “Smaller groups are filling the gaps,” he noted. “My foundation has a pristine reputation for taking care of kids. We are doing things on the fly, but doing things that need to be done. So many kids had an issue, and now it’s even worse. We are trying our best to make sure everyone’s fed.”
Among those pitching in is Milton Elementary School social worker Gloria Ho. Ms. Ho managed the school’s food pantry and backpack programs, and she also works with others in the Cape Henlopen School District to help address food insecurity.
“I reached out to Harry K in the beginning, in the first two weeks, to talk about picking up and delivering food, to make sure food was available,” she said. “The Food Bank is amazing with the logistics; we’re able to serve 300 kids at five schools with backpacks.”
The school district provides a bus and driver every Friday, and the Project Kudos bus funded by Schell Brothers has been pitching in to deliver to neighborhoods on Tuesdays and Fridays where parents lack transportation.
Alyssa Titus, Project Kudos spokesperson, said Schell Brothers employees pick up fresh fruits and vegetables from Produce Junction to supplement the meal boxes their volunteers load up at the Food Bank’s Milford warehouse.
“We also supplement with essential non-SNAP items, personal items,” she said.
Their efforts require six crews – eight people in each crew – packing boxes into trucks and the Project Kudos bus to deliver to at-risk neighborhoods, mostly in the Cape Henlopen School District, but also to Indian River district neighborhoods, and in Dover.
“In times like these, the schools are very important to help get food out to the kids,” Ms. Ho said.
Mr. Keswani explains that “volunteers already have the infrastructure in place,” and in addition to the Food Bank, the state Department of Education helps with food procurement.
“We are trying our best to make sure everyone gets fed,” he said. “We are really lucky in Delaware. Everyone is willing and we work collectively. We’re all in this together, and everyone is doing their best.”
Plans are already under way for summer grab ‘n go feeding programs in neighborhood that need assistance.