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Federal food drive goes virtual to tackle hunger during the pandemic

The annual federal campaign to stock food banks and pantries during lean summer months has turned to more virtual avenues in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic has kept many employees out of the office.

The Feds Feed Families campaign, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and held in June and July when donations to food banks are traditionally at their lowest, launched June 1. This year, the agency also released a new website with virtual tools that allow federal employees to continue to contribute to hunger relief while ensuring pandemic safety.

“This year’s campaign emphasizes online donations, and much of the campaign will be carried out virtually on our hub. On our new website, we offer different tips and tools to donate online. For example, you can donate directly to a food bank or you can organize a virtual food drive to motivate your colleagues. We also provide guidance to federal employees who choose to attend in-person activities,” Lavnia Panizo, a program specialist at USDA and the national chair for the 2020 FFF campaign, told Federal Times.

In person contributions include field gleaning, during which volunteers harvest unused produce from nearby farms, and warehouse gleaning, where volunteers sort and package food that has been donated. In those instances, the campaign has encouraged federal employees to follow safety guidance from their agency, the Centers for Disease Control, their state and local health agencies, and from the pantries and farms themselves.

But feds also have several opportunities to participate this year without leaving their homes, such as hosting or attending virtual events that explain food insecurity within various communities, ordering groceries to a food bank online, planting extra rows of produce in their own gardens and contributing to hunger-based charities though the special solicitation of the Combined Federal Campaign that will run through the end of June.

“Feds Feed Families [doesn’t] handle any monetary donations or anything like that,” said Panizo, explaining that feds can record CFC donations to food banks and pantries in the FFF Hub website.

“It’s a twofer: they’re fulfilling both the CFC objective and also ours, which is to bring attention to issues of hunger.”

The CFC season usually only runs from the beginning of Fall to early winter, making this year’s overlap of a CFC special solicitation and the Feds Feed Families campaign a unique occurrence.

A new feature of the 2020 campaign allows employees with a government email address to record their own donations, the total of which is tracked live on the site.

The campaign itself, which has run each summer since 2009, has collected more than 92 million pounds of food over the course of its history.

“I think the need across the country is great, and federal employees are people who are drawn to service, so this is one way for them to give the way that they’ve been giving but also be able to record their cumulative efforts in one location,” said Panizo.

“It is a little different, but it also gives us an opportunity to do this virtually and test out those systems.”

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