Harvesters is a food bank for the Kansas City region—a large warehouse-transportation distribution center for partners who provide food to those they serve.

Before the pandemic, we’d been used to addressing natural disasters. Groups would rally to areas, so we had practice with that, but we had never faced a combination economic, health and education disaster.

Food is an essential need. The day things shut down, we began receiving calls: “What are you [Harvesters] going do?” We said, “Harvesters is committed to being here, as long as we can keep our staff and partner agencies safe.” But, we needed a new business model. We’d relied on donated product to receive food and distribute it, but that had to change.

Corporations closed. Manufacturing closed. The producing communities lost entire markets. Farmers lost their buyers (hotels, stores, etc.). We had to commit to purchasing millions of pounds of food. We shared this financial need on our website. People understood the need was great.

In the first two weeks of the pandemic, we had to cancel 3,000 volunteers from coming in to help in order to maintain social distancing. We hired warehouse workers to keep the food moving appropriately (many volunteers were in at-risk groups). We converted to outdoor, mobile distribution sites. We assisted schools with drop-and-go food distribution.

We were not just requesting help, we were offering help.  At the same time, we were also working on the government front to search for funding: city, country, state and federal levels. By the end of our fiscal year, we had supplied 51 million meals. In addition to food distribution, we awarded grants to partnering agencies.

Overall, we were able to increase our new donors by 18,000, and brought back lapsed donors as well. It underscored the Hartsook saying, “People don’t want to give money away, but they do want to make a difference in other people’s lives.”

It took a lot of collaboration among our partnering agencies and others to do what needed to be done. It was a clear expression of the power of philanthropy—the ability to achieve extraordinary things together, things no single organization could do alone.

From the beginning, we continued to put one foot in front of the other. We decided early on: “We’re going to do it!” … even when we didn’t know how we would do it, we knew we had to, and we would.

Guest Blog:
Joanna Sebelien
Chief Resource Officer
Havesters – The Community Food Network
Kansas City