Photo courtesy of Xochi on Unsplash
Do you remember where you were in March 2020 as much of the world sheltered in place and wild creatures, just for a moment, reinhabited city landscapes? I was living in Sonoma County, California.
During the first shelter in place (SIP) order, I saw videos of coyotes, wild goats, and other animals reclaiming silent city streets. Simultaneously, I heard distressing stories about the effects of the SIP on Sonoma County’s unsheltered and extremely-low-income residents.
Even in our unbalanced economy, Sonoma County’s caring kept people fed…until March 2020. With the SIP, many older and at-risk residents stopped volunteering. Not only did soup kitchens and food banks lose volunteers, but they also lost at-risk staff even as safe distancing requirements and outdoor operations severely restricted activities. Once bustling downtowns became quiet, wild places that made animals feel safe but were devoid of patrons who may have given five dollars or bought a cup of steamy coffee for someone who was down on luck.
For the first time, gut-wrenching hunger became a reality for Sonoma County’s 2,000 unsheltered residents and many others who relied on the kindness of strangers.
That’s when we began designing Text Food. By April 2020, we added Text Comida when two community liaisons from St. Joseph Community Health Investment offered to work with our team to create a bilingual service. In June of 2020, with a lot of support from caring individuals, nonprofits, and advocacy groups, Text Food/Comida launched our countywide text service.
Now, anyone can use our free service to quickly get the word out about new and changing food distribution details. Through the magic of technology, a partnership with Redwood Empire Food Bank, and on the ground reporting from regional community advocates, all information is updated weekly. Anyone with a cellphone can text our number, enter their zip code, and get an up-to-date list of locations that distribute free food in their area.
Beyond The Pandemic
We expect Text FOOD/COMIDA to be useful for a long time. Fifty percent of jobs lost due to Covid-19 occurred in the lowest paying jobs.[i]
The CEO of our local food bank reported that between March and July 2020, demand for food rose by 291%.[ii]
When faced with Sonoma County’s high housing cost, many of our neighbors who still have jobs must choose between rent, food, utilities, medical care, and other basics. Did you know that there isn't anywhere in the entire United States where a person working a 40-hour week for the local minimum wage can afford Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom rental?[iii]
In Sonoma County, a renter earning minimum wage would have to work 115 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental.[iv]
We are just learning that renters with children are more likely to be experiencing hardship. November 2020 data reveals that 42 percent of adults living with children reported that children are not getting enough to eat or the family is behind on rent compared with 29 percent without children.[v]
Black and Latino households are more than twice as likely to experience food insufficiency (7% of white compared to 17% of Latino and 18% of Black households).[vi]
Text Food/Comida exists to help the helpers reach more people with their efforts, share information and resources, and rebuild community. We believe that the social safety net is made of caring human connection. By creating infrastructure that supports working together to address our most daunting challenges, we can build connections that reweave the social safety net and restore our WHOLE community's health. Text Food/Comida is the first of the community collaboration tools that we envision.
We are powered by volunteers' hearts and hands and financial support from funders who understand the power of grassroots collaboration. Join us in building a future where our whole community can access the resources needed to be healthy and thrive!
Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2020 data[ii]
The Healdsburg Tribune, September 10, 2020[iii]
National Low Income Housing Coalition report, Out of Reach 2019: https://reports.nlihc.org/oor/2019[iv]
National Low Income Housing Coalition report, Out of Reach 2020: California, Santa Rosa data: https://reports.nlihc.org/oor/california[v]
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, December 2020, New Data on Hardship Underscore Continued Need for Substantial COVID Relief: https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/new-data-on-hardship-underscore-continued-need-for-substantial-covid[vi]
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, December 2020, Tracking The COVID-19 Recession’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships: https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and