Nutrition Education and Food Distribution Nonprofits Pivot in Wake of COVID-19

By Common Threads | Aug 12, 2020

By Mimi Chacin

Aug. 6, 2020 – The Coronavirus pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of life and society. At a time when nonprofits are among the most needed, they too are among the most impacted. However, the innate steadfast commitment nonprofits have to serve and provide for vulnerable communities especially during times of crisis, fuels their drive to quickly find creative ways to adapt and pivot, in many cases, without skipping a beat.

At the onset of COVID-19, Common Threads immediately began planning how the organization would now provide the families it reaches with access to nutritious food, a service Common Threads typically offers by serving meals and snacks through its “in” and “after” school programs. As a result, Common Threads teamed up with restaurants, food companies and other nonprofits to provide food distribution and other support to children and families, as well as free access to its Common Bytes nutrition education website to help children, parents and educators transition to virtual education. Read more about Common Threads response to COVID-19 in our blog. The organization also created a virtual summer camp and on-demand programming to support children looking for summer learning solutions.

Common Threads wanted to give a voice to other nonprofits within the food insecurity, nutrition, education and wellness space, so we reached out to a few of our nonprofit friends to learn how they too jumped into action, rethinking and reformulating their services to offer the urgent support their communities needed, and continue to depend on, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many started with a simple, yet powerful practice. “The most important thing we did at the onset of COVID-19 was listen,” shared Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & Senior Advisor, Paula Reichel. PHA’s goal is “that all children — especially those disproportionately affected — will live healthier lives, growing up to be adults free from obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.”

“Through this period of listening, we learned early on that the pandemic had created major challenges in supply chains and that the real challenge facing the emergency food system was not food or money, but labor,” Reichel said.

Washington, D.C. based Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), a nonprofit with a mission to “empower a diverse population of youth to achieve a successful transition to adulthood,” also listened by shifting to virtual programming as a means to connect the young people they work with directly to the staff they know and trust.

“They confide in us their fears and concerns every day,” explained Lupi Quinteros-Grady, LAYC’s president & CEO.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County is an organization that provides wholesome food and fresh produce to hundreds of thousands of hungry Orange County citizens every month.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the food bank immediately identified that it would best serve the community by “becoming the food safety net for the pantries and partners that were forced to temporarily (and some permanently) close due to the pandemic,” explains Claudia Keller, chief mission officer and a member of Common Threads’ Los Angeles board. Keller explained that this move required the food bank to “radically alter their operating construct.”

With the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers that run the Harvest Truck Brigade, Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County started delivering boxes of shelf stable food to senior centers as well as to those with “critical needs” – the immune-compromised, those that could not leave their homes or did not have anyone that could bring them food safely – on a weekly basis. The organization also served over 60.000 households through a drive-thru food distribution site.

Like Second Harvest Food Bank, LAYC and PHA also developed plans of action that would temporarily replace and forever enhance their pre-COVID practices. PHA established the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund, “…a completely new model for PHA that brings fresh produce to communities in need across the country , yet resonated with some of the ways we had been thinking prior to the pandemic,” Reichel explained..

LAYC also pivoted to provide needed food, rental assistance, laptops, hot spots, diapers, and virtual opportunities such as telemental health and GED classes, among other services, according to Grady. The food deliveries have also served as a direct “touch point” between LAYC staff and families, shedding light on ongoing challenges and current needs, allowing the organization to hone in on ways to refine their services even further.

Looking ahead, these dedicated nonprofits within the food insecurity, nutrition, education and wellness space plan to continue listening and pivoting to better provide vulnerable communities with the services and resources they need most during the evolving COVID-19 crisis.

PHA plans on “focusing not only the physical resources, but the human resources displaced from the food system due to COVID-19,” shared Reichel, “…reaching out to chefs of color and other food system innovators to help relaunch or sustain their businesses while filling in longstanding gaps in food access.”

The Second Harvest Food Bank will continue improving and adjusting their model to provide emergency food supplies communities rely on during the pandemic, as well as expand on existing programs such as the Mobile School Pantries and Kids Café program to provide boxes of emergency food for families during the coming school year.

LAYC has plans underway to help close the learning gap so many D.C. students have suffered due to COVID-19 by continuing its services to ensure youth are not left behind, while maintaining their focus on food assistance services as a priority.

Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition, so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them.

Common Threads was founded in 2003 and currently operates in 12 major cities including Austin, Texas; Chicago; Dallas-Ft. Worth; El Paso, Texas; Erie, Pa.; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; Pittsburgh, Pa.; San Antonio, and Washington D.C. To learn more, visit or on social media, @CThreads on Facebook and @Common__Threads on Instagram and Twitter.