Food insecurity is a global crisis and while it’s not a new problem, COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue by contributing to financial insecurity, unemployment and social isolation for many.
There are now an estimated 1.2 billion people around the world who are food insecure and that’s an increase of almost 32 percent (or 291 million food-insecure people) from 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest International Food Security Assessment.
Some of the places hit the hardest include India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sub-Saharan Africa, but not far from Marriott International headquarters – in the Greater Washington, D.C., area – food insecurity is visible as well.
The Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) – which is the leading hunger-relief organization in the region – more than doubled the meals it provided from 30 million in 2020 to 75 million in 2021.
DC Central Kitchen – which provides food and job training in the culinary arts — is serving more than 25,000 free meals to children at 17 schools in the District each week, while also delivering more than 20,000 meals to shelters, senior citizens and front-line nonprofits and providing deeply discounted fresh produce to corner stores in neighborhoods that lack healthy food options.
The impact of these two organizations to address food insecurity in our local community cannot be overstated and I am deeply proud to call them long-time Marriott International partners.
JW Marriott Jr., our Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, engaged with both CAFB and DC Central Kitchen decades ago because he understood the importance of food in a community and Marriott’s unique ability to assist with jobs and other resources. We were founded as a restaurant business called The Hot Shoppes and food is still in our DNA.
Over the years, Marriott International and the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation have partnered with both organizations in numerous ways, from days of service with our associates to direct financial grants. COVID-19 forced us, for a time, to pause some of our hands-on work, but we still found innovative ways to help our partners meet the increasing demand for their services.
For example, I have to give kudos to Ryman Hospitality Properties, owners of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland – not far from Washington, D.C. Ryman and the Gaylord team opened up 40,000 square feet of unused event space for several months during the pandemic so the CAFB – which was experiencing a surge in demand — could store food and augment their packing operations.
Likewise, our headquarters associates and 22 Marriott International hotels in the region organized virtual food donation drives, creating a QR code that associates and customers could use to order and ship food directly to the CAFB. To date, more than 5,000 food items have been sent via these virtual drives.
This week, we took another step in our partnership when about 55 Marriott International associates, including myself, took the afternoon off to work in the CAFB warehouse, packing over 1,400 boxes of emergency and senior meal kits and sorting 10,000 points of food. It felt fantastic to work side by side with my colleagues and volunteer in-person to address a crisis facing our founding city.
After the boxes were packed, we met with CAFB President and CEO Radha Muthiah to present a special holiday gift from Marriott International and the Marriott family foundation – funding to build an outdoor kitchen and support garden renovations. We hope CAFB uses the kitchen as an educational space where culinary professionals, including our own chefs, can impart skills to community members and enhance existing nutrition education programming.
All of us can play a role in alleviating food insecurity in our communities, whether it’s through volunteer work, reducing food waste in our personal lives, or donations. We’re honored to support the non-profit partners that are on the frontline addressing food insecurity today while building strategies to eliminate food insecurity in the future.