Nonprofits and restaurants that work together to combat food insecurity got a boost recently from a new executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The order directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide more funds to support these partnerships, a move that will benefit both anti-hunger nonprofit groups and restaurants that have been struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously, FEMA has funded federally approved restaurant/nonprofit partnerships at a level of 75 percent, offsetting a large chunk of costs for free meal services offered to people in need. Biden’s order raises FEMA’s share of funds to 100 percent. That means the free meals provided by restaurants will be fully reimbursable, benefiting both for-profit foodservice businesses and nonprofit organizations like food banks, pantries and soup kitchens.
The executive order will make it easier for states and local governments to help nonprofits make more emergency food deliveries and feed more food-insecure children during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign website.
Biden signed the order after a bipartisan group in Congress introduced the FEED (FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries) Act, which is backed by Chef José Andrés and the global nonprofit World Central Kitchen. But since even bipartisan bills can take months to earn congressional approval, the Biden administration opted to speed things up, said Monica Gonzales, director of federal advocacy for No Kid Hungry, in a statement on the nonprofit’s website.
“The executive order means we don’t have to worry about whether or not the bill is going to languish in legislative limbo,” Gonzales said. “This measure brings forward every resource the government has to address this national hunger crisis and opens the door to innovative ways in which we can feed children.”
It can also save jobs in the restaurant industry, which has been crippled by the pandemic. Restaurants shed 2.5 million jobs in 2020 as shelter-at-home orders went into effect and many state and city governments shut down or limited dine-in service to stem the spread of the coronavirus. These job losses have exacerbated the food insecurity crisis.
World Central Kitchen works with restaurants to help feed underserved communities nationwide through its program, Restaurants for the People. The program reimburses restaurants for producing meals that get distributed to local people in need.
“The real key here is that every dollar that goes back into these restaurants ends up paying for staff, paying for the food coming from suppliers,” said Central World Kitchen CEO Nate Mook. “It keeps that economic engine going so that the business can keep running and [restaurant workers] can keep buying food so they don’t become food-insecure themselves.”
Douglass Williams, chef and owner of MIDA Restaurant in Boston, said the World Central Kitchen program helped his business at a difficult time during the pandemic last year. “We had to close down for about a month and a half,” he said. “Then this opportunity came along. It was a scary time, and everyone was just spinning.’”
Thanks to creating meals for the hungry through MIDA’s collaboration with World Central Kitchen, his staff was busy in the kitchen once more, Williams said. “Front-of-the-house people were cooking in the back and chopping vegetables and grabbing knives. It was a lovely, crazy and exciting time because everybody just wants to work, and we were also helping our own community,” he said.
Biden’s executive order will immediately free up additional government funds for tackling food insecurity, but state and local leaders have an important role to play, Gonzales noted. “It will be incumbent upon local agencies, cities, counties, governors [and] state agencies to work together with nonprofits and others to get those plans in front of FEMA and get them approved immediately.”