Skip to main content

A Look at the Builders Initiative COVID-19 Relief Effort

Bringing Food and Aid to those in Need

Recognizing the pandemic would have immediate, tragic impacts on the food system, including people working hard in fields, production facilities, grocery stores and restaurants, Lukas and Samantha Walton asked the Builders Initiative (BI) team in March 2020 to quickly make recommendations for over $200 million in aid to people and communities in need. Over the next 14 months, over 300 grants were deployed to 270 organizations in Chicago and across the country.

The BI team reached out and listened to nonprofit organizations on the ground to learn about their most urgent challenges and what they needed to scale their relief efforts fast.

From that listening and collaboration, BI’s COVID-19 funding recommendations focused on cash assistance, food donation, personal protective equipment (PPE), legal aide, vaccine support and other aide for those working in the farm, meat processing and seafood industries.

In addition, funding helped national food banks capture produce that would otherwise go to waste due to disruptions in the food system and also targeted programs that would help make the food system more resilient coming out the pandemic.

At home in Chicago, BI worked with the Chicago Community Trust to bring immediate assistance to community-based organizations that could deliver critical cash, food and services to the Chicago area’s most vulnerable populations and supported efforts to ensure an equitable rollout of vaccines. The funds were also given directly to Chicago artists, local restaurant workers, and to support programs for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Through this experience, BI gained a wealth of knowledge about tackling crises effectively with the leadership and guidance of organizations dedicated to serving the people and communities who need it most.

In total, the organizations:

  • Distributed cash assistance to over 95,000 individuals, including food workers
  • Provided more than 4.3 million masks to farmworkers
  • Provided more than 4.7 million meals, 27 million pounds of food, and 1.9 million food boxes
  • Rescued over 130 million pounds of food from farms that couldn't provide it to restaurants and foodservice businesses and redirected it to food banks

“We all know the pan­dem­ic again high­light­ed the long-stand­ing inequities in our eco­nom­ic, health, and food sys­tems. We were for­tu­nate to have the flex­i­bil­i­ty and resources to quick­ly get food, PPE, and cash assis­tance to peo­ple who need­ed it most; and to work with some remark­able orga­ni­za­tions to make that happen.”

— Bruce McNamer, President, Builders Initiative

A Look at Some of Our Key Partners:

United Farm Workers Foundation

The United Farm Workers Foundation (UFW Foundation) advocates for forward-thinking policies while providing resources and dedicated services to help and protect farmworkers. For this vulnerable population, UFW Foundation addresses issues, including systemic poverty, immigration reform, legal services, and emergency relief.

During the pandemic, the UFW Foundation efforts included conducting large-scale COVID-19 outreach in California and the Pacific Northwest, to distribute cash assistance, enhance bi-lingual digital communications, provide emergency food relief, secure personal protective equipment (PPE), fund legal assistance for immigrants and support the rollout of vaccines to farm workers. The outreach and communications infrastructure the UFW Foundation built to support its pandemic relief remains and will continue to help them support farmworkers across the country.

“This grant gave us the resources to address the biggest emer­gency we’ve seen in the nation in a cen­tu­ry and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do work we’ve want­ed to do for years. We were able to have an impact on the ground and give invalu­able sup­port to farmworkers.”

— Diana Tellefson, Executive Director, UFW Foundation

Feeding America

As the nation’s largest hunger-relief network, Feeding America works with 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs to provide food and services to people every year.

Funds supported by BI helped Feeding America recover more than 47 million pounds of food from farms across the country that usually supplied restaurants, but experienced disruptions in the food supply due to the pandemic. Feeding America distributed the recovered produce to food banks across the country that were feeding the growing number of food insecure people impacted by COVID-19. This work not only boosted the food available to those in need during a critical time but helped to strengthen Feeding America’s capacity for regionally sourcing and distributing fresh produce.

“These funds helped us cap­ture addi­tion­al pro­duce and dis­trib­ute it to food banks. The mag­ni­tude of impact has allowed us to expand our pos­si­bil­i­ties in the years ahead, cre­at­ing equi­table access to food in places that need it most.”

— Lindsey George, Foundation Relations Lead, Feeding America

The CDC Foundation

The CDC Foundation helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) save and improve lives by promoting collaboration between CDC and various partners, including philanthropies, corporations, organizations, and individuals, to protect America’s health, safety, security, and global citizens.

Some racial and ethnic groups were disproportionately burdened by COVID-19 experiencing much higher rates of infection and deaths. So, the CDC Foundation sought to support health equity and address other systemic barriers vulnerable populations faced throughout the pandemic.

Using culturally sensitive approaches specifically tailored to ethnic communities, organizations spread the word about COVID-19 safety and promoted vaccinations, including hosting community events, managing local awareness campaigns, and reaching out directly to engage neighborhoods and residents

“As we con­tin­ue to encour­age all who are eli­gi­ble to be vac­ci­nat­ed, the role of com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions to help end the pan­dem­ic has nev­er been more crucial.”

— Judy Monroe, MD, President and CEO of the CDC Foundation

The Chicago Region Food System Fund

Launched in the thick of the pandemic, the Chicago Region Food System Fund (the Fund) was designed to be fast and flexible. Developed by BI and several other philanthropic organizations, the Chicago Region Food System Fund worked to address hunger and business disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Rooted in racial and economic justice, the Fund prioritized organizations that produced food in and supplied food to communities of color.

In total, the Fund provided $6.9 million in financial assistance to 105 non-profit organizations in roughly a 200-mile radius of Chicago. With COVID still affecting our local communities, BI has proudly committed to funding a second year of the Fund.

“The strain that COVID-19 placed on Chicago’s local food sys­tem — and the many urban, sub­ur­ban, exur­ban, and rur­al com­mu­ni­ties that com­prise it — is grave. The Fund received far more strong appli­ca­tions than it could sup­port, indi­cat­ing both great chal­lenges and strong com­mu­ni­ty capac­i­ty to meet them”

— Karen Lehman, Director, Fresh Taste & Manager, Chicago Region Food System Fund.