Local food systems organizations and departments were, and continue to be, overwhelmed by high rates of food insecurity as social distancing measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic causes job loss, lack of school meal availability, and an overall economic downturn. This includes food banks and pantries which are now serving more clients while also implementing COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. This also includes food policy councils and farm to institution organizations seeking to create connections within local food systems to ensure residents have access to food and farmers can transition their client base (ex. from restaurants or wholesale to direct markets). These organizations often lack resources in terms of staffing, finances, infrastructure and technical knowledge. Closures of schools, for example, forced municipalities, schools, and nonprofits to develop rapid-response food distribution infrastructure and programs almost overnight.
Students at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy launched the Friedman Food Systems COVID-19 Connector (“Connector”), a service learning program utilizing an online platform to match organizations seeking technical assistance in their responses to COVID-19 to Tufts students with corresponding skills and interests. Non-profit organizations, farms, companies, and governments benefit from students’ time and skills and students have the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world problems.
Students created food safety guides, local food maps, data visualizations, data management platforms, blog posts, grant proposals, and newsletters, among other things, for 26 organizations in 13 US states. The Connector will be folded into an existing program at the Friedman school called Service Scholars. Moving forward, Service Scholars will connect students and organizations on a variety of projects (not limited to direct responses to COVID-19) that work to alleviate food systems challenges in communities across the U.S.