Finding Hope and Gratitude in Uncertainty | COVID-19 and Food Rescue
When the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality in Massachusetts, Food Link needed to quickly pivot to continue to safely serve the community. Our Director of Operations and Community Partnerships, Elise Springuel, jumped into action to ensure a smooth transition through these uncertain times. Continue on to read Elise’s personal reflection on how the pandemic affected Food Link’s operations, how she processed this new normal, and her hope and gratitude for food rescue.
A recent New York Times article asked people to recount the moment where they knew that “the world had changed.” For me, that moment came on March 9th, 2020. I was sitting in Food Link’s then operations space, a small storefront we had just moved into while construction continued on our Hub — our new environmentally-sustainable and accessible building with expanded facilities, increased storage and refrigeration located in Arlington, MA. I opened my email to learn that a school, just around the corner, was closing after the parent of a student exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. A sense of apprehension followed me through that day. Everything seemed sharper and a bit eerie, though nothing immediately changed.
At the end of the day, I was making one last delivery. I loaded my car with some bananas I was dropping off at Mystic Community Market in Medford, MA. Closing the trunk, my sense turned suddenly from apprehensive to resolute; we were built for moments like this.
Food rescue builds the skill of thinking on your feet. We may start a day wondering if we will have enough food for our deliveries and end it with solving the puzzle of how to store the extra we have left over. Our work has always been to meet the needs of our community. When our community partners need more food, we search for it. When more food comes our way, we find new folks to take it. We already had a track record of problem solving on the fly — finding creative solutions to transportation problems and cold storage. I had a sense we could face this new challenge.
As I drove my car across town, smelling the sweet thick scent of perfectly ripe bananas, I was surprisingly filled with a sense of gratitude. A vision stretched ahead of me not just of hard work, but of work that could make an impact. I knew we would have a lot of new problems to solve, days of lean supply and days of plenty. But I was confident our team and volunteers would keep showing up, the ways we always had.
That sense was right, and then some. A year into this pandemic, we have weathered supply chain interruptions that lead to decreased donations from grocery stores. These interruptions evened out with receiving surpluses from closing restaurants and schools. We problem solved safe ways to keep our volunteers on shift, moving as much as we could outside and implementing a cohort model. We forged new partnerships with moving companies to move food and take on larger loads. We stored food at Carmichael Dining hall at Tufts University and Accardi Foods, a food distributor located in Medford, MA, allowing us to serve more partners. We did what we have always done. We met need.
Food Link doubled what we did, increasing our food distributed to 1.2 millions lbs.
Over the course of the year, Food Link doubled what we did, increasing our food distributed to 1.2 millions lbs. We created new programs, such as our partnership with the Culinary Program at Minuteman Regional Technical High School in Lexington, MA. We increased the number of Food Industry Donors we worked with, particularly increasing our activity with wholesalers. We found new places to distribute food, targeting housing facilities, delivery programs, and mutual aid groups that allowed folks to safely receive food in their communities. And all of this was done with the scrappy and innovative energy I sensed back in March — that special sauce that makes Food Link, well, Food Link.
A year later, I won’t sugarcoat it and say it has all been bread and roses. It was hard work and there were moments that I didn’t think I could press on. But then a volunteer would pop their head in and excitedly show me the masks they had sewn for their team, or recount how rapidly and joyfully the van was unloaded at the pantry, or they would drop off an eggplant that looked like it had a nose because it made me smile. It was always the injection of hope I needed. We persisted.