Community Partner Highlight
In 2020, an estimated 50 million Americans faced food insecurity, many for the first time.1 The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated an already troubling public health issue for people in the US who do not have reliable access to nutritious food. This past year, US households that experienced food insecurity increased from 11% to 16%, with children’s food insecurity rates increasing from 11% to 23%.2
This lack of access to food is a national issue, but solutions are often left to the local level to address. In many ways, the city of Berkeley reflects the national struggle to provide resources to its citizens. Dozens of nonprofits and programs exist to meet the community’s needs, but there was little coordination between organizations until recently. In 2016, the Berkeley Food Network was founded to meet the need for food by coordinating with various agencies and acting as a hub for food distribution. North Berkeley Wealth partner, Kate King, was instrumental in the founding of the organization, and we have been fortunate to participate in BFN’s growth since then.
About the Berkeley Food Network
The Berkeley Food Network (BFN) is an innovative organization coordinating providing healthy food to people in need in Berkeley who need it. BFN’s goal is to alleviate hunger and poor nutrition in Berkeley with community-centered solutions.
In the past five years, BFN has evolved from an administrative network trying to unify the many nonprofits providing food in Berkeley to the working center of the effort to banish hunger from our community. It operates on several levels. A large warehouse hub is at the center of their food distribution operation, sourcing groceries from food banks, food businesses, and local farms while making them available to various programs and individuals. They also operate a food recovery program that transforms locally unused food into ready-to-go meals and partner with food justice organizations on advocacy for a fair food system.
BFN distributes food that comes in through these various resources to ensure that food is available every day and in several locations. They operate an onsite pantry, a service providing Berkeley residents with free groceries, and a kitchen that makes prepared meals. Food is also distributed via school bag programs and a mobile pantry. And importantly, BFN remains the hub to its member organizations, focusing disparate organizations around a single cause.
Since its founding, BFN has grown each year, and in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic pushed its evolution faster and further than anyone could have predicted.
Responding to the Pandemic
The need for reliable access to food increased dramatically in Berkeley, straining resources and necessitating adaptation. Berkeley Food Network saw these changes first hand as more and more people showed up in need. According to Executive Director Sara Webber, the demand for BFN’s services multiplied in 2020, growing from serving an average of 1600 people a week in 2019 to 5,000 a week in 2020. They received more than 60,000 individual visits to their pantry. Distribution via their mobile pantry programs grew from 13 to 33 partners over the course of the year.
This increased need has also meant increased staffing. BFN grew from two full-time and one part-time employee to six full-time and three part-time employees. Before the pandemic, the number of regular volunteers hovered around 35. By the end of 2020, that number was closer to 200, with an average of 85 volunteers helping out each week. “It’s amazing to live in a city that is so generous in money and time,” says Webber. Along with the outpouring of in-person and in-kind support, BFN saw a huge influx of donations in 2020.
With their determination, community support, and grants from the government, BFN stepped up to the challenges of 2020. They have grown and innovated to meet food insecurity in Berkeley head-on and hopefully can be a model for other communities struggling with this issue.
Connection and Stewardship
North Berkeley Wealth is proud to support the Berkeley Food Network, and our community partnership provides an example of our multi-layered engagement with a local nonprofit. In 2020, we were able to continue to assist with leadership, volunteer at the distribution hub, and provide design support for BFN’s branding and messaging.
Community engagement is a central tenet of the North Berkeley ethos and illustrates our vision of a community alive with connection and stewardship.
photos courtesy of Berkeley Food Network
1 Feeding America, The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020, https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/Brief_Local%20Impact_10.2020_0.pdf
2 National Geographic, One in six Americans could go hungry in 2020 as pandemic persists. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/one-in-six-could-go-hungry-2020-as-covid-19-persists
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