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Christopher Bradshaw had already been running his nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud for more than a decade when the pandemic struck.

The organization is working to alleviate the food shortage in the Washington, DC area, partnering with local farmers, caterers, restaurants and other food aid organizations to prepare and distribute free meals . As the pandemic hit the district, Bradshaw knew the organization’s work would be vital in helping people survive, like a single mother who came to collect meals for her children.

“She came to us and said, ‘I’m really happy that you are all here and thankful that you are all here because I have $ 14 in my bank account and my dad passed away last week,’ and she was there with two children, “Bradshaw recalls.” She said, ‘I don’t know how I was going to feed my children.’ We see and hear this stuff.

Beyond Washington, black communities across the country face disproportionately higher rates of food shortages, which have only been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. Food insecurity rates among black households with children were almost double that of white households with children, according to a July 2020 report from the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University; Food insecurity rates for black respondents hovered around 41 percent, according to the report, while for white respondents, food insecurity rates were around 23 percent.

In DC, Dreaming Out Loud saw the need at the start of the pandemic and got to work with World Central Kitchen, which provides meals to people around the world struck by disasters, and Little Sesame, a renowned restaurant group. , to launch Meals for the City, along with other black-owned caterers and businesses. They distributed thousands of college meals from March 2020 through July.

“We knew there were people who were already working on these issues, who had roots in the community, who had connections and who were trustworthy,” said Nick Wiseman, co-founder of Little Sesame. “So we really relied on Chris and his team at Dreaming Out Loud to kind of build that trust in the community we serve.”

Black communities in the DC region have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. According to 2021 research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 58% of those infected with Covid-19 in Washington were black, although blacks make up only 45% of the district’s population.

Diane Schanzenbach, economist and director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, said the problem of economic disparities in the black community is linked to falling wages and wealth gaps. It is also more difficult for black and Latino families, as well as for less educated groups, to recover from recessions.

“It’s just an economic fact about recessions, that the unemployment rate for black people rises in an economic downturn, and it takes longer for them to get back to normal,” Schanzenbach said. “It means there is more suffering. This means there is more economic uncertainty for black families.

Bradshaw said he sees the results of these disparities in the communities he serves. Before the pandemic, one of Dreaming Out Loud’s main initiatives was to lead a community-supported agriculture program of black farms, which sources from black farmers across the region. Dreaming Out Loud is also partnering with several local organizations to ensure healthy food is available in schools, restaurants and small grocery stores.

Dreaming Out Loud’s Black Farm CSA program prioritizes sourcing products from black farmers in six states.Courtesy Dreaming out loud

“We would have people coming in and saying, literally, ‘I have HIV and sickle cell disease.’ So if this farmer’s market weren’t here, I wouldn’t be able to buy healthy food to stay alive, ”Bradshaw said. “So those are the things that motivated our response and also kept us going when the going was tough. ”

While Bradshaw has said that large-scale government restitution and economic protection would have a greater impact on these disparities, his organization is trying to fill in the gaps created by systemic racism. The organization is also trying to shape the nutrition of DC’s youth through its Food and Agriculture Center, which sources fresh produce for its programs, and also provides ingredients for student breakfasts at Kelly Miller Middle School.

For Thanksgiving this year, Dreaming Out Loud has already distributed turkeys and other ingredients to help as many families as possible gather around the tables. The organization also plans to distribute soup made from recovered pumpkins.

Beyond the holidays, through its annual Dream program, the organization trains more than 30 food entrepreneurs on how to successfully launch their businesses. Expanding to a new location shared with its partner, DC Central Kitchen, Dream Program participants will use the new kitchen space to hone their skills and take advantage of opportunities such as taking restaurant jobs and selling their food. products in stores.

“At an organizational level,” said Bradshaw, “it’s important for us to be involved in the work because by being involved in your work we are engaged and involved in the struggle, which allows us to have the platform to talk about in these bigger pictures the issues of reparations and justice, which are integral to the possibility of building a decent, honorable, deserved and well-lived life for black people in America. “

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