News  |  June 25, 2020

In response to unprecedented food insecurity needs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, cities in the Sacramento, California region grappled with how to meet these needs. The City of Roseville is located about 20 miles east of Sacramento in Placer County, and like many cities, food insecurity rose to an all-time high with the Placer Food Bank reporting double the amount of individuals served since before the pandemic. In addition, the abrupt closure of businesses, including restaurants, caused a cascading effect of workforce reductions and economic loss. Restaurants are key economic drivers of local cities. The Family Meal Roseville program offered an opportunity to help to address food needs with restaurants’ expertise and capacity to feed to families in need. When Roseville learned of a program to address both needs, it began exploring possibilities to offer it in their city. Because of a longstanding partnership with the Health Education Council (HEC) to improve health outcomes in Roseville’s core neighborhoods, the city asked HEC to lead the program.

The Family Meal Roseville program provides meals for vulnerable community members; helps small businesses, local farmers, and vendors in the region stay in business; and leverages the city’s transportation and volunteer resources. Grants from the City of Roseville, the Placer Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, Roseville Rotary, Roseville Firefighters Association, Sutter Health, individual donations, and in-kind support provided funding for community meals. Seven local restaurants participated in the program, which are all located in Roseville and many have a history of community service. Each nutritious meal kit could feed a family of four. Restaurants were reimbursed for their costs and families or at-risk seniors received meals at no cost. Meal distributions were conducted five days a week throughout the City of Roseville at six low-income housing communities and four Title-1 schools, which fed hungry families and isolated seniors in need. A limited number of home deliveries were also made.

HEC and the City of Roseville representatives received guidance from a Sacramento Family Meal program co-founder to learn more about restaurant expectations and program examples. HEC developed an online application for interested restaurants, which asked general information about the restaurant’s current operations with COVID-19 restrictions, safety standards, and capacity to prepare meals. Seven local restaurants were selected for participation and agreements were executed between HEC and restaurants. A high priority was to coordinate with other food security efforts through the food bank, senior services, school food service, and other charitable entities working to meet the high demand. HEC ensured that securing distribution sites where individuals and families in need reside and/or receive free breakfast and lunch from schools was prioritized. HEC staff actively reached out to affordable housing communities, schools, and agencies to identify areas of greatest need. Once word got out about the program across the city and county, HEC received more responses and requests from individuals and communities; however, due to funding limitations, they were not able to work with all communities or provide door-to-door deliveries for home-bound seniors in need. Another key aspect of the project was documenting through social and print media weekly progress of the program and to offer publicity for participating restaurants. Most of the restaurants were offering takeout-only service and HEC hoped to encourage patronage to restaurants after restrictions were lifted.

Collectively, the seven participating restaurants prepared nearly 4,000 family meals serving 16,000 individuals over a six-week period. One participating restaurant is newer to Roseville and their grand opening was scheduled to occur when the shelter in place mandate became effective and was extremely grateful for this opportunity to bring South Indian Cuisine to the community. This program allowed all participating restaurants to not only receive new exposure to future clientele but were able to keep their doors open and workers employed. During the final week of the program, meal participants at schools and housing sites, site partners, restaurants, and volunteers were administered a survey to assess the program and future needs in relation to food, financial health, and ongoing needs as a result of the pandemic. Preliminary results from meal participants administered at low income school distribution sites indicate the following:

  • 100% of program participants noted that the meals received did help meet at least some of their food needs during these unprecedented times.
  • Average family size of meal program participants is five people per household.
  • Almost 80% of meal recipients shared that someone in their household either lost a job or experienced reduced hours/income as a result of the pandemic.
  • Meal recipients reported obtaining food from community food distribution sites doubled after the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Additionally, when asked what programs or activities could help them meet their food and health needs after the meal program ended, top results include: cooking classes on a budget; budgeting classes; classes on stress management; and having more free produce markets offered near their home.

The participating restaurants were also surveyed to learn more about their experience and the impact COVID-19 had on their business. All participating restaurants reported a decreased employee count during the COVID-19 outbreak, despite staying open for takeout and/or delivery. 75% of the restaurants shared that the program allowed them to keep their staff employed. Family Meal Roseville provided the participating restaurants with a “higher purpose during a time that was difficult for everyone” and helped “keep their employees’ spirits up.”

Planning for the Roseville Family Meal program occurred within a 2-3-week period and launched on May 4, 2020, operating for 6 weeks through June 12, 2020. The program was not fully “built” upon implementation but HEC felt the need to act quickly to address the needs of the community. HEC also did not have a fully clear assessment of the number of meals to prepare for daily distribution and HEC underestimated community needs. Restaurants were able to adjust to increase the meals served and HEC took very seriously any feedback received from individuals and families receiving meals and shared this feedback with restaurants regularly (e.g. food preference likes and dislikes, unclear heating instructions, etc.).

Given the urgency of the pandemic on health, food, and economic needs, existing partners were ready to mobilize quickly to launch the program. Building on existing trust and relationships through the Invest Health Roseville initiative was a foundational building block of the program. Relationships with schools, housing, and other sites also helped to launch the program quickly. Leveraging each partners’ strength and having flexibility about what could be done and what would be a stretch were important conversations to have at the beginning. For example, not all restaurants were equipped to deliver prepared meal kits, so the partnership with the City of Roseville transportation service was a key element. The City of Roseville stepped up early in the food insecurity crisis and was a strong, equal partner in launching and ongoing management of the program. The dual goal of the city to address food insecurity and support struggling small businesses essential to the Roseville economy was an aligned interest. Assessment and evaluation of the program has uncovered the continuing need to address food insecurity and ways to increased alignment in food procurement, linkages, and communication among various systems (education, housing, food banks, agriculture, etc.) providing food to residents.

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