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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Wisconsinites have lost their jobs, their pay, and their small businesses. When money runs short, households often must choose between paying for food or paying for rent or childcare. Extension Milwaukee County is partnering with our frontline school meal providers, emergency food networks, community-based organizations, and local government to find collaborative solutions to healthy food access needs caused by COVID-19.
“Our collective goal is to keep our neighbors throughout the county healthy and fed, and we do that best when we are working as a coordinated, connected food system” said Extension Healthy Communities Coordinator Danielle Nabak. “At all times, and especially in the uncertainty of this pandemic, we are working towards food security – the condition in which all people in our community, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs.”
Extension and local food partners are working to develop strategies to minimize the stress COVID-19 is putting on many sectors of the food system. This includes addressing the needs of local food pantries and nutrition programs facing issues with capacity, delivery models, and food sources. It also includes the safety and steady flow of products, to protect the safety and livelihoods of people working across the food chain, and to support alternative operation models and marketing strategies for food businesses and urban agriculture partners, all of whom have lost major sources of revenue in the wake of COVID-19.
According to data from County Health Rankings, an estimated one in seven Milwaukee County households were food insecure, meaning they didn’t have assured access to the food they needed at the beginning of the year. With unemployment on the rise due to COVID-19, this number is likely to increase in the coming weeks. Over 60 percent of students in Milwaukee County were approved to eat free or reduced-price school meals before the COVID-19 pandemic. That number rises to over 80 percent in the city of Milwaukee and is sure to increase in the coming months. A collaborative approach is necessary to address these issues. Extension is proud to work with our local partners to address these challenges.