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By Krishna Ramanujan and Matt Hayes
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Department of Global Development
  • Food
  • Global Development
With families struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic, the Tompkins County COVID-19 Food Task Force hosted a free food pickup and delivery for more than 800 individuals, in 216 households, July 7 and 8.

The service aided families caught in a one-week gap between the end of a reduced and free school lunch distribution programs and the start of summer school food programs for the Ithaca City and Trumansburg school districts. Food donations also assisted the Newfield, Lansing, West Village and Northside communities, and farmworkers through the Cornell Farmworker Program.

Task force workers distributed boxes of fresh produce that included cherries, carrots, cucumbers, garlic scapes, salad greens, lettuce and zucchini donated by local farms, Headwater Food Hub and Healthy Food for All, and boxes of shelf-stable food from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier and Friendship Donations Network.

“We’re in weekly communication with these different institutions and have been able to identify where there are gaps in need – by families and producers – and we’ve been able to respond,” said Rachel Bezner Kerr, professor of global development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who is one of seven core task force leaders. “And then because [the task force is] a network of institutions, we’ve been able to bring resources together to respond.”

As part of the task force efforts on July 8, volunteers from the Cornell Farmworker Program delivered 240 boxes of perishable and fresh food and 100 prepared meals to farmworkers across the county.

“New York state’s food supply would crumble without the critical jobs our farmworkers do day in and day out,” said Mary Jo Dudley, director of the farmworker program.

“Despite their essential role in feeding everyone across this state and beyond, they often are vulnerable to food insecurity of their own.

These food deliveries provide some support but it’s imperative that more is done to protect their well-being during the pandemic and into the future," Dudley said.

Since the pandemic first took hold the program has actively responded to the needs of farm workers across the state. Starting in March, the Cornell Farmworker Program initiated a mask-making and delivery operation to provide protective equipment for vulnerable farm workers. More than 6,500 masks have been delivered in counties all over New York.

Farmworkers in Tompkins and surrounding counties often labor and live in close proximity with each other. The arrival of migrant workers coming from southern states currently hit hard by the pandemic increases the risks of infections for New York farmworkers, according to Dudley.

 “Farmworkers and their families need food support during this time, but another critical need is information,” she said. The program provides regularly scheduled calls with farmworkers, and in four webinars held in the spring offered medical information and advice about safe social distancing behaviors. The program will offer two more webinars July 28: one in English at 4 p.m., and another in Spanish at 6 p.m.

Holly Payne, coordinator for the task force, said the demand for food across the county reveals the depth of need during the crisis. But the response from volunteers in the community shows the resolve of everyone to pitch in to help neighbors.

Many local small farms and organizations provided food, coordination and delivery, including Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Farmworker Program. The task force is supported by the COVID-19 Response Fund of Community Foundation of Tompkins County, Cornell’s Office of Engaged Initiatives and donations.

A version of this article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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