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Leveraging Tech-Enabled Volunteerism to Combat COVID-19 Food Insecurity Through FH4Inclusion

March 10, 2021
By Kiley Hayward

In mid-March 2020, the first shelter-in-place orders were issued in San Francisco. FleishmanHillard’s San Francisco team, like many others, was spread out to our homes, parents’ homes and beyond. Everyone felt helpless, but many also wanted to find ways to help.

At the same time, Jeff Miller, a seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneur, saw a viral video of a Bend, Oregon woman who helped an elderly couple get groceries when they were too afraid to risk their health by going inside the store. Later that night, he called his mom, who lives in Arizona, outside of delivery zones for food services that many of us in major cities have come to expect access to. Because his mother is immunocompromised, her only option for getting essentials like groceries was to go to the store herself and risk her health in doing so.

At that moment, it struck Jeff that this was a widespread issue: Due to age, underlying health issues or other vulnerabilities, people could no longer safely meet their basic needs. And longstanding system health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk or getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Because of Jeff’s background, he saw the power of technology to help address the enormous challenge. He started reaching out to his network to form a team and, within days, the team pulled together a hackathon to create the technology needed to address this issue. Within weeks, Helping Hands Community was formed.

Through FleishmanHillard’s Silicon Valley connections, we learned about Helping Hands and took them on as an FH4Inclusion pro bono client, supporting their messaging, media training, strategy and communications execution.

Over the course of nine months, our scrappy team — scattered from Silicon Valley to Washington to Colorado to New York — came together to provide Helping Hands with the robust communications assets needed to successfully launch the startup nonprofit. The team created and implemented a full communications plan and assets, and conducted proactive media outreach around several key initiatives, garnering coverage in Forbes, The Mercury News and Yahoo Finance, among others.

In that time, Helping Hands also transformed its model to help local organizations solve the volunteer shortage problem brought on by the pandemic and close the gap of the “last mile” to get food to the underserved. At the end of 2020, Helping Hands, with the help of our team, delivered more than 250K meals, expanded services nationwide by leveraging partnerships in major metros including San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Boston; Los Angeles; Chicago and Austin.

I am so proud of the work we did with Helping Hands, but what can’t be measured is the healing that this meaningful partnership brought to our team. In times of crisis, we can either put our heads in the sand and hope the storm passes, or we can put our hands (however virtual) out and make an impact in the lives of those who need a helping hand.

Photo courtesy of Helping Hands Community.