Food Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 26, 2020 - (6 min read)

Significant disruptions in community and regional services, as well as mass school closures due to Coronavirus, can keep people from having their basic needs met, including access to food. These include impacts to the youngest among us, school-aged children, low-income and poor vulnerable adults and the elderly. In this time, once reliable school meals and other regular operations are in flux; these disruptions may last for an extended periodMany workers who keep these essential services, programs, and resources running may themselves get sick and/or be exposed to harm or risk by serving vulnerable populations. While emergency funding may help support needed programs, it is essential those resources get to where they are most needed in a timely fashion to ensure residents have on-going access to food. 

Municipal leaders can support access to food and nutrition by considering and ensuring the following: 

  • Timely, safe and accessible meals and food to vulnerable individuals are provided, including WIC recipients, students (especially those who are eligible to receive free and reduced-price meals), people experiencing homelessness, the elderly, as well as foster youth and others experiencing transitions. 
  • Resources are provided (e.g. masks, gloves, tables, tents, etc.), so meals and food are handled in a safe manner, adhering to CDC physical or social distancing guidelines for both students, caregivers, and workers.  
  • Financial resources through federal, state and local entities are getting to where they are most needed for on-going and reliable access to food. 
  • The safety of providers making home visits to the elderly and folks with ranging levels of ability (Meals on Wheels programs, etc.) by making necessary adjustments for safe food delivery 
  • The most vulnerable are supported through the crisis through alternate mechanisms, like providing alternate social interactions via phone and other types of check-ins.

Local leaders CAN ensure timely and on-going food access to all residents with an emphasis on vulnerable populations adhering to CDC physical or social distancing guidelines 

  • Fund and/or support schools and service providers to remain open for food distribution and use best practices related to CDC physical or social distancing guidelines. These funds could come from your city’s general, rainy day fund or other tax revenueor be funded through privatepublic partnerships.   
  • Partner with local philanthropic and anchor institutions to support organizations providing these essential services, fill the gaps from federal and state funding (i.e. school meals do not feed caregivers) and send additional resources to families to purchase food and cleaning supplies.  
  • Work with community-based organizations (food banks, non-profits, homeless services providers, faith-based organizations and churches, etc.), community organizers and leaders to address gaps and needs by calling on all assets in their communities (e.g. city fleet vehicles for delivery of meals). 


Local leaders CAN provide clear, transparent and accessible information in collaboration with service providers, school districts, community leaders, and grocery stores following CDC guidelines 

  • Develop a citywide and/or districtlevel action plan with input from service providers (e.g. food banks, faith-based organizations, non-profits, etc.), school districts, community leaders, and grocery stores. 
  • Agree upon communication mechanisms with key messaging – including hours of operations, location, delivery options – for the elderly and individuals with ranging levels of ability and accessibility without ID requirements. 
  • Develop a portal or webpage with partners that will be regularly updated with the latest information, answers frequently asked questions and provides an email for community members questions. 
  • Take advantage of the communications channels each stakeholder has (newsletters, texting services, listservs, 211), so all members of the community have access to timely and relevant information. 
  • Make sure elected officials talking points include the agreedupon communications and they reference the food resources in all speaking engagements. 

Local leaders CAN ensure strong collaboration with federal, state and local partners to align financial resources that enables timely and on-going access to food throughout the crisis. 

  • With the on-going implementation of existing and new federal resources and programs (e.g. SNAP, WIC, etc.), many already strapped providers will be struggling to understand these new resources and processes. 
  • City officials can play a key role in both advocating for resources so they are targeted to where they can do the most good and informing relevant providers of these new and timely resources.  
  • City officials can work with state and local officials to ensure alignment and clarity, so that information can be provided to impacted residents about alternative hours and processes related to necessary benefits.  

Local Examples 


About the Authors: 

Jordan Carter small

Jordan Carter is the senior program specialist for the Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) department at NLC.



Patrick Hain small

Patrick Hain is the Program Manager for Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.



SueP_readySue Pechilio Polis is the Director of Health & Wellness in the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.