Like many workplaces across the country, YouthCare had to quickly adapt to the “new normal” of COVID-19. Through creative problem-solving and community support, we have continued to provide high-quality care to young people while simultaneously navigating an unprecedented economic and public health crisis.
The pandemic has increased rates of homelessness, unemployment, and food insecurity across the country. In 2018, there were more than thirty-five million food insecure individuals in the United States who could not consistently or affordably access food for an active and healthy life. This number is expected to increase by a staggering three to seventeen million more people in the next two years depending on rates of poverty and unemployment. Additionally, data show that food insecurity disproportionately impacts Black and Latino households, once again revealing the pervasive racial inequalities in our social fabric.
People experiencing homelessness also experience higher rates of food insecurity. According to the 2020 All Home King County Point-in-Time Count, free meal service is the most utilized resource by young people experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, shelter-in-place orders resulted in the closure of public schools, restaurants, and many businesses, making it even harder for youth to access affordable meals.
During quarantine, people across the globe got creative in the kitchen, and YouthCare had to do the same. A quickly changing service model and a pause on all volunteer meal groups meant that we needed to provide more meals with less assistance. Despite this challenge, providing consistent food options for all of our young people was a top priority. Hence, the birth of the YouthCare Urgent Pantry!
Each week, a small team operating at out of our administrative office sources pantry items and prepared food from community partners and delivers specialized meal boxes to our seven housing and shelter sites, three independent living programs, and three engagement centers throughout the city. Youth and staff are able to make specific requests for their programs or individual needs. Boxes can include both perishable and non-perishable items, from fresh fruit, eggs, milk, bread, and vegetables, to canned goods, pasta, granola bars, rice, and cereal.
At YouthCare, we know that safe shelter and reliable food access are integral to helping young people transition out of homelessness. Meeting these basic needs allows youth to connect with key opportunities for long term success. Despite the fear and uncertainty of this time, we have seen high levels of youth getting housed, graduating with their GEDs, and exploring long-term education and employment goals. A variety of convenient and nutritious food options allows staff to stay focused on supporting youth, and also keeps young people engaged with our programs.
This work could not happen without the help of community partners, such as Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest, and the generosity of donors and supporters who help us meet critical basic needs by purchasing items on our wish list. If you are interested in supporting the Urgent Pantry, visit our wishlist here.
“Incredible food aid from our community made Juneteenth and Pride celebrations in our programs feel festive and valued. Youth loved it! We’re so grateful for the consistent support of nutritious foods to nourish and keep youth healthy in an unpredictable time.” – YouthCare Staff