As coronavirus threatens food security, UB Food Lab researchers are working with community partners to respond
By the University at Buffalo
University at Buffalo researchers have created a map of food resources in Buffalo to help people locate and access food during the coronavirus pandemic.
The map – made using Google Maps – includes retail outlets such as grocery stores, along with sources of free food such as food pantries, soup kitchens and schools offering meal pick-up for families with students in Buffalo Public Schools.
The project is part of Seeding Resilience, a community-led coalition that’s seeking to strengthen the local food system in response to COVID-19. The mapping lead is Zhu Jin, Ph.D., a research affiliate with the UB Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab and a member of the food equity team in the UB Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity.
The virus is threatening to increase food insecurity and hunger across the U.S. as unemployment rises, schools close, and the pandemic and related emergency measures make it more difficult for many people to obtain food, says Samina Raja, Ph.D., professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, director of the Food Lab and a co-convener of Seeding Resilience.
Particularly hard hit are underserved communities where many people don’t live within walking distance of a grocery store and don’t have access to a personal vehicle. Nearly 56,000 households in the Buffalo Niagara Region fall into this category, Raja says, and for these residents, making a trip to the supermarket during the pandemic can be both difficult and risky.
This is just one way the pandemic is exacerbating existing food inequities in Buffalo, especially in communities of color that have traditionally been redlined by supermarkets, Raja says.
“The map is designed to help people have information about food resources in one place. People can zoom into the location of their neighborhood and identify the closest free pantry, for example,” Raja says. “Information generated in the map is also a reflection of a community’s collective spirit in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Community residents send us information about food resources, and we update the map as fast as we can. This is truly the result of a community effort.”
Raja’s team at the Food Lab created the map, which includes clickable icons showing the location of food resources across Buffalo. People can easily zoom in on their neighborhoods, adjust the map to show only sources of free food, and tap the icons to learn about the services offered at each location, including contact information for stores and organizations.
Partners in the Seeding Resilience coalition include food pantries, local gardeners and growers, food aggregators and distributors, food justice advocates, and others who are working to:
•Increase food production within Buffalo and the surrounding region through existing farms, community gardens and backyard/frontyard gardens;
•Create employment opportunities in food production and farming, which will also help to tackle food insecurity; and
•Ensure timely and affordable distribution of foods to residents through a distribution system.
For information on the coalition, visit the Food Lab’s website on Seeding Resilience, which also houses a list of links to organizations such as urban farms and food pantries that can assist people who need to access food.
The coalition meets via Zoom every other week to coordinate movement of food from local growers to residents in the City of Buffalo. Calls are facilitated by Rebekah Williams, founder of Food for the Spirit. Grassroots Gardens of Western New York coordinates the effort to increase food production in consultation with Gail Wells, a long-time food justice advocate and a UB alum. The Massachusetts Avenue Project facilitates food aggregation. And Feed Buffalo, a food pantry founded by Drea d’Nur, provides emergency food. Food is transported by bicycle couriers dispatched by Queen City Couriers and volunteer drivers. The UB Food Lab and UB Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity provide research support.
People, businesses and organizations who would like to join Seeding Resilience or who know of food resources that should be added to the map can contact [email protected].