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Q&A: Behind the scenes of how Feeding America responds to natural disasters

From tornado outbreaks in the southeast to historic flooding in California, the first half of 2023 has featured extreme weather events that have displaced thousands of people. When that happens, one of the first organizations to respond is Feeding America

Our longstanding partnership with the nonprofit, which began with our predecessor Kellogg Company, is integral in fulfilling our Kellanova Better Days™ Promise commitment to addressing food insecurity. When families are affected by disasters, we support Feeding America by donating truckloads of food to help communities recover. 

But what happens behind the headlines? What are the logistics of Feeding America’s disaster relief? How do they ensure food is always available? 

We asked Patrick Crawford, Senior Director of Disaster Services at Feeding America, to take us behind the scenes. 

Kellanova: When a natural disaster happens, what are some of the immediate steps that happen on your end? 

Patrick Crawford: When there’s a crisis that requires additional food, food banks don’t wait to respond. They have food on hand and respond immediately. When it’s a disaster that results in food needs beyond what is available locally, Feeding America food banks can raise their hand and ask for help from the national office and the generous donors that support our national network every day and, especially, in times of crisis. So, the Feeding America national office puts out a call to national partners, like Kellanova, to give them a sense for how big of a disaster it is, and what type of food is needed in those disaster-impacted communities. 

K: Is that an aspect of Feeding America that people might not understand – that you’re more of a local organization than it seems? 

PC: Yes, the food banks are inherently local organizations. They’re based in the communities that they serve and, collectively, the national food bank network represents more than 17 million sq. ft. of warehouse space, close to 4,000 vehicles and mobilizes millions of volunteers across the nation. The national Feeding America network is comprised of 200 food banks that support 60,000 partner agencies and together they reach into every state, county, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. During large scale disasters, food banks from throughout the national network will loan staff, trucks, pallet jacks and forklifts to help the impacted food banks ramp up to meet incremental needs during disasters. Food banks know these communities very well as a result of their work to address food insecurity on an everyday basis, so when a disaster strikes they’re able to quickly mobilize. 

Because of their work, food banks are often able to reach rural or urban communities that the government not always can. Some of these communities have historically been left off the map completely in the aftermath of disaster. So, our intent is that communities that might be forgotten don’t get forgotten. It is vitally important that we account for food access challenges resulting from issues of race and place. 


K: How does Feeding America keep its network of food banks and partners strong? 

PC: We’ve been working with food banks to build regional collaboratives that have mutual aid agreements and a strategy for sharing resources more efficiently. We foster relationship building between food banks throughout a state and in neighboring states so those auxiliary food banks can help provide backup resources. 

Resource sharing and planning regionally helps to expedite assistance to disaster survivors. And if there’s a disaster beyond what even these regional collaboratives can handle, that’s when we draw on national partners like Kellogg. Without hesitation, we almost always hear from Kellanova about how they’re ready to step up donations when there’s an incremental drain on the system. 

And it’s not always food that they donate. In some cases, it’s financial donations to purchase certain things like water and cleaning supplies, and pre-position them at food banks around our network. 


K: Is there anything unique about Feeding America’s partnership with Kellanova? 

PC: I think the partnership with a company like Kellanova is significant for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest ones is they’re one of the partners we hear from early and often. The products they donate are uniquely requested and especially necessary at the early stages of a disaster. In those early days, it’s bars and cereals and ready-to-eat foods. 

During the first wave of a disaster, people are displaced from homes. They’re living in shelters or hotels. Or they’re at home without power. Inevitably, that first wave of support requires non-perishable, non-cook items. In-kind donations have been significant for a long time, but I also think it’s great when Kellogg uses its voice to bring awareness to disaster preparedness and relief efforts. There are a lot of great national non-profit and faith-based organizations on the front lines of disaster relief, but I don’t think everyone has a full appreciation for how this national network of food banks is able to mobilize volunteers and donations to help neighbors in crisis following disasters. 

Click here to support Feeding America’s mission to tackle food insecurity. 

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