(FoodLink social-distanced food distribution event. Photo: Andrea Kelly, FoodLink)
Despite being one of the most productive counties in the United States in terms of agriculture, Tulare County has consistently been characterized by the lack of food security for many families in the region. While many families have reported experiencing difficulties making ends meet, there has also been an overall increase in the need for emergency food provisions in Ivanhoe.
FoodLink for Tulare County is a nonprofit organization that has served nearly every community in Tulare County, including Ivanhoe for years.
Andrea Kelly, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for Tulare FoodLink, describes the organization as a unique entity that uses a holistic food systems approach. Kelly says FoodLink is “the foodbank for the county with a primary focus of emergency food relief. It’s kinds of like a supplement to other programs like WIC, food stamps and social security.
FoodLink partners with over 70 organizations all over the county to provide food to all residents and also advocates for food system change and increased education in regard to community health by teaching people how to cook and grow their own food.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Kelly says that there has been a drastic increase in the need for services. She says, “Before the pandemic, places like Badger didn’t need emergency food.” Many communities were not utilizing emergency food services to the same degree. “Now with this pandemic, even those services aren’t enough for the community. People who are working class have lost their jobs, are diagnosed with COVID-19, or are staying home and they are having to rely on more resources than before.”
The need for emergency food in Tulare County has roughly doubled. Kelly asserted, “Just this week alone, all of our distributions hit over 400 families. Even in small areas it’s been over 400. Especially since some communities like Traver the regular is 200. We have a lot of new clients, that’s the end of it.”
Services in Ivanhoe during COVID
Ivanhoe has also demonstrated a need for increased services. Kelly stated, “Ivanhoe is one of our biggest sites. Before COVID-19, we received 230-300 people communing through. After the pandemic began we regularly see 300-400 clients at each event.” Describing their previous activities, Kelly said, “We partner with the community and regular people could come up to the produce and pick them themselves to create the experience of picking what you want. Now all vegetables are bagged and placed into the trunk of the client’s vehicle.”
The monthly food distribution is conducted on the Third Friday of the Month at the Ivanhoe Church of God. Kelly recommends to follow Tulare FoodLink on Facebook and Instagram in order to stay up to date with any changes in scheduling.
To support more education around healthy foods, FoodLink also hosted in-person educational cooking workshops but has made a shift to digital platforms through its new program called “Cooking around Tulare County”. This program invites community members including Tulare County Supervisor Eddie Valero and Potterville City Councilmember Daniel Penaloza. The videos can be accessed on FoodLink’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
Kelly says from her observations more people are cooking inside their homes. She commented, “The pandemic means a lot of people have to cook now to stay safe and reduce social gatherings. People are learning basic skills again. Normal people share these skills with one another in hopes of normalizing being in the kitchen.”
Collaboration is Essential for Emergency Food Provision
Collaboration is essential to manage perishable food resources to serve the community the best. Kelly says, “you can totally saturate a community with food. It can rot and go bad if not utilized, if we could spread it out, people can use the resources all month”. Communication with partners and community volunteers is also important since FoodLink for Tulare County is short staffed, like many other nonprofit organizations responding to emergency services during the pandemic.
To assist with FoodLink’s food distribution, Kelly recommends going to www.foodlinktc.org to sign up for service. Volunteers may select which communities they would like to service in 2.5 hour increments. To keep residents safe, FoodLink has additional requirements to limit at risk individuals from participating. These limitations apply to
- Anyone under the age of 18
- Anyone who may be ill
- Anyone who may have come in contact with the virus
- Anyone in quarantine
- Anyone with compromised immune systems
For follow up questions please contact FoodLink community engagement coordinator, Andrea Kelly at Andrea.Kelly@foodlinktc.org or 559.592.0117.