Covid-19Magazine Exclusive

Grounded, but giving back

(From left) Captain Kevin Johnson of the Lynn, Mass., Corps; Chris Farrand; Andrea Pratt; Joe Waller; and Kody Crosson of the Eastern Territory’s EDS Department.

COVID–19 has been a crushing blow to the travel industry.

For companies like California–based AMI Group, which distributes food to airlines and cruise ships, everything changed overnight with the COVID–19 shutdown. No flights and no cruises meant no business.

The company reached out to The Salvation Army to see if there was a chance to help each other out. The result was a three–way partnership between AMI, The Salvation Army, and the state of Massachusetts that will produce 230,000 food boxes across the Bay State, said Bob Myers, the Eastern Territory’s emergency disaster services (EDS) director.

“We have about an $8–million contract with Massachusetts, where we’re supporting the food banks across the state,” Myers said. “AMI is the vendor that has stepped up to produce the food boxes for us. The Salvation Army is taking the lead in coordinating that among both the partners.”

Myers said simply buying food from AMI would have been problematic given the refrigeration and packing needs. The company solved those problems, too. AMI has packing facilities around the country and put the material in the recognizable white Salvation Army food boxes.

“AMI, through their network of partners, including packers and what not, was essentially able to come to the table and fill that gap for us,” Myers said.

“It’s a win–win. We really don’t have to touch the items per se other than the ones we’re distributing ourselves,” Myers added. “The food banks are handing out materials branded through The Salvation Army. Everyone has been more than satisfied.”

Chris Farrand, the EDS director for the Massachusetts Division, said The Salvation Army has been working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and state during COVID–19 and “they have a respect for us” due to the Army’s response to past disasters. In fact, once the virus hit, The Salvation Army was put in charge of a task force on feeding.

Farrand stressed during the meetings with high–level officials that The Salvation Army was already doing a food box program and, while food banks and other organizations were scrambling to find food, the AMI partnership was like a gift from the sky.

“Even FEMA was saying, ‘How it that possible?’ It really was an amazing success story to find AMI,” Farrand said.

“The short story is the governor said, ‘Great.’ MEMA said, ‘We want to partner with The Salvation Army.’ We’ve got 25,000 food boxes a week going out throughout the commonwealth. Most of those are going to food pantries.”

Farrand said 125,000 food boxes had been distributed by early July. That figure will eventually reach 230,000 across Massachusetts.

Recently, AMI’s CEO Joe Waller and Director of Product Development Andrea Pratt visited The Salvation Army’s food hub in Lynn, Mass., and saw how the operation works.

“This is a whole new arena for us and gives us a chance to do some good right now when we otherwise don’t have a whole lot going on,” Pratt said. “The Salvation Army has been nothing short of impressive.

“The folks we’ve worked with have been incredible in helping to make this happen.”

by Robert Mitchell