Americans give to charity like never before amid pandemic

By Jonnelle Marte

(Reuters) – Hundreds of cars line up before dawn on weekly distribution days for the Forgotten Harvest’s partner food pantries in the metro Detroit area, where visits are up by 50% this year.

The need has grown as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down offices and other businesses. So has the response.

Monetary donations to the food bank are on pace to top last year’s contributions, helping to fund a larger storage space and new mobile distribution sites required to distribute food safely during the crisis.

“The only good thing about this pandemic is that it’s made people care a little bit more about their neighbors,” said Christopher Ivey, director of marketing for Forgotten Harvest, one of the largest food banks in Michigan.

The economic crisis set off by the pandemic has widened the chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in the United States in new ways. People who can work from home, often in higher-income jobs, are comfortable.

But over 20 million Americans rely on unemployment benefits, and hunger and poverty are rising.

The expanded rift has been accompanied by an outpouring of donations to local food banks, crowdfunding campaigns and other aid to financially devastated Americans.

Amazon shareholder Mackenzie Scott’s $4 billion in charitable contributions, announced earlier this month, may be the biggest. But plenty of Americans are also chipping in, donating $10 or $20, some for the first time ever.

Many non-profits have suffered this year as the pandemic shuttered galas and fundraisers. But donations to some small and mid-sized charitable organizations were up 7.6% in the first nine months of 2020 over 2019, according to a recent analysis by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, which tracks nearly 2,500 groups. The number of donors is up by 11.7%.

The trend seems to have continued in December, typically the most active time for charitable giving in the United States, early data show. Charities received $2.47 billion in donations on Dec. 1, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving known as GivingTuesday, up 25% from 2019.

“People are giving like we’ve never seen before,” said Woodrow Rosenbaum, chief data officer for GivingTuesday.

Much of that is coming in small dollar amounts, suggesting that people across the income spectrum are stepping up their contributions, Rosenbaum said.

About 70% of the donations made to campaigns on GoFundMe were under $50 this year, up from 40% in 2019, according to a spokesperson for the fundraising website.

“What we have now is much more collective action,” said Rosenbaum.

America’s Food Fund, started this year, raised over $44 million on GoFundMe, the largest campaign ever on the fundraising website. Long-time programs like the United States Post Office’s Operation Santa, which matches donors with needy families who send letters to a special North Pole address, report unprecedented support.

Jonathan Cummings, executive director for Revive South Jersey, a ministry started in 2012 to tutor English, mentor and provide housing help in local communities, says a “groundswell” of volunteers signed up to deliver food every two weeks after the organization realized that many of the families it supports were struggling to afford groceries.

Giving Tuesday donations tracked by Share Omaha, a Nebraska organization that supports local nonprofits, nearly doubled this year from 2019, to over $3 million, with a third coming from first-time donors. When the group asked for volunteers earlier in the year for packing meals for the homeless and other tasks, it got 700 applications, up from the 200 monthly average.

“Even if people are out of work or furloughed, they want to give back to the community,” said Marjorie Maas, executive director for the organization.

Janette McCabe was one of the hundreds of people waiting in cars before sunrise on the Monday before Christmas in a parking lot in Warren, Michigan, for a Forgotten Harvest food bank distribution.

McCabe and her husband lost their jobs recently and have been relying on food stamps. She has been coming to the food bank distribution for about a month and a half.

“The volunteers are fantastic,” McCabe said. “I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have them.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Additional reporting by Emily Elconin; Editing by Heather Timmons and Dan Grebler)

Stranded truckers fume as they wait to leave UK after COVID blockade

By Peter Nicholls and Gerry Mey

DOVER, England (Reuters) – Furious truck drivers stranded at the English port of Dover scuffled with police as Britain sought to get cross-Channel traffic moving after a partial blockade by France to contain a highly infectious coronavirus variant.

Paris and London agreed late on Tuesday that drivers carrying a negative test result could board ferries for Calais from Wednesday after much of the world shut its borders to Britain to contain the new mutated variant.

The British government has drafted in the military to help but there was confusion amongst drivers about how to get tests, and warnings it would take time to clear the backlog of trucks, hammering Britain’s most important trade route for food just days before it leaves the European Union’s orbit.

“Testing has begun as we look to get traffic moving again between the UK and France,” British transport minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter. “However, French border police only acting on agreement from this morning and severe delays continue.”

Huge queues of trucks have been stacked on a motorway towards the Eurotunnel Channel Tunnel and on roads to Dover in the southeast county of Kent, while others have been parked up at the former nearby airport at Manston.

With no sign of traffic to the European mainland resuming and confusion over how to get a coronavirus test, tempers were beginning to flare among drivers, many from Eastern Europe who do not speak English and are angry that they will not be able to get home to their families before Christmas.

Police said there had been disturbances in Dover and Manston “involving individuals hoping to cross the Channel” and one arrest had been made.

“This is not how it should work. We have no information, the people need to be fetching information,” Mekki Coskun from Dortmund in Germany, told Reuters.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he had been in touch with Britain’s Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron about the jam.

“This can be done differently. This whole process could’ve been better organized,” he said.

The Road Haulage Association, which estimated there were up to 10,000 trucks being held up in Kent, said it was chaotic.

“The border is still closed, the testing regime isn’t happening yet, you’ve got truckers very angry and we’re starting to see a breakdown in law and order in a small way among very frustrated guys who want to get back by Christmas,” Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy for the RHA, said.

Normally between 7,500-8,500 trucks travel via the port every day but volumes have reached more than 10,000 recently.

Getlink, the operator of the Channel Tunnel, said just 45 trucks had reached France between midnight and 1100 GMT.

FURTHER BREXIT DISRUPTION

Some of the extra traffic was a result of Christmas demand, but many were in the country to deliver goods to companies who are stockpiling parts before Britain finally leaves the EU on Dec. 31, a move that is expected to cause further disruption in January when a full customs border comes into force.

The British Retail Consortium, an industry lobby group, warned that until the backlog of trucks was cleared and supply chains returned to normal, there could be issues with the availability of some fresh goods.

Logistics firms have also said that many European drivers had already refused to come to Britain in the new year when they would have to carry customs paperwork, and the need to secure a coronavirus test will further compound the situation, pushing up freight prices.

Drivers will first take a rapid lateral flow test. Anyone who records a positive result will take a more comprehensive PCR test, which takes longer to secure a result, and anyone testing positive again will be given a hotel room to isolate.

Many of the mostly European drivers, many stranded with their trucks and without access to hot food or bathroom facilities, believe they are pawns in a political standoff between Britain and the EU as trade talks reach a climax.

“We don’t have food to eat, we don’t have drink, we don’t have anything, nobody … cares about us,” said Stella Vradzheva a driver from Sterlcha in Bulgaria.

(Additional reporting by James Davey, Joanna Plucinska, and Yiming Woo; Writing by Kate Holton and Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alison Williams)

Britain tells shoppers food is plentiful but supermarkets fret about next week

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said there was plenty of food in the shops on Tuesday but industry groups repeated warnings of shortages of some fresh produce from next week unless freight routes to mainland Europe are swiftly restored.

Interior minister Priti Patel said Britons should not be concerned despite Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Britain’s two biggest supermarket groups, raising the alarm on Monday that gaps could start to appear on fruit and vegetable shelves within days.

Freight from France is being disrupted as part of a wider suspension of travel links with Britain to try to curb a new faster-spreading strain of COVID-19.

“I don’t think anybody should be worried – there is plenty of food in our shops,” Patel told LBC radio.

British supermarkets are facing record Christmas demand due to COVID-19 restrictions on the hospitality industry and on travel and there are fears of panic buying.

“UK shoppers need have no concerns about food supplies over Christmas, but impacts on local on-shelf availability of certain fresh foods look likely from next week unless we can swiftly restore this link,” said Ian Wright, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents over 300 food and drink businesses.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents more than 170 major retailers including the big supermarkets, is also concerned about supplies shortly after Christmas, highlighting possible shortages of salad, vegetables and fruit, including raspberries and strawberries.

“The borders really need to be running pretty much freely from tomorrow to assure us that there won’t be any disruption,” Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, told BBC radio.

He noted that 90% of the lettuces consumed by Britons and about 70% of soft fruit comes through the Channel ports at this time of year.

TESTING

The BBC cited France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune as saying that Britain and France would announce a deal to restart freight by Wednesday. One option is to roll out mass testing for truck drivers.

“Whatever is agreed, we need to be careful it doesn’t add too much friction to the supply chain which in itself causes disruption by causing delays to the drivers whilst they’re being tested,” said Opie.

Though large queues again snaked around supermarkets across Britain on Tuesday and some shelves were stripped bare, food retailers said they had not seen any major changes in customer buying behavior.

Opie said supermarkets had expected and planned for Christmas queues.

“You need to remember these are the busiest days for shopping…and remember all the stores are still operating all of their COVID protocols, which means you can’t get as many people into a supermarket as you would do normally,” Opie said.

“We’re not seeing the sort of excessive buying in any kind of volumes that we saw around that period in sort of mid-March,” he added.

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Alexander Smith and Louise Heavens)

United Nations and Ethiopia reach aid pact for war-hit Tigray

ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia and the United Nations agreed on Wednesday to channel desperately-needed humanitarian aid to a northern region where a month of war has killed, wounded and uprooted thousands.

The pact, announced by U.N. officials, gives aid workers access to government-controlled areas of Tigray, where federal troops have been battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and captured the regional capital.

The war is believed to have killed thousands, sent 45,000 refugees into Sudan, displaced many more within Tigray and worsened suffering in a region where 600,000 people already depended on food aid even before the flare-up from Nov. 4.

As hundreds of foreign workers were forced to leave, aid agencies had appealed for urgent safe access.

Food is running out for 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray.. And medics in the local capital Mekelle were short of painkillers, gloves and body bags, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said at the weekend.

“The U.N. and the Federal Government of Ethiopia have signed an agreement to ensure that humanitarians will have unimpeded, sustained and secure access … to areas under the control of the Federal Government in the Tigray Region,” U.N. humanitarian coordination agency OCHA said in a statement to Reuters.

The government has not commented on the agreement.

TELECOMS PARTLY RESTORED

After phone and internet connections were largely shut down when the war began, telecoms in half a dozen towns in Tigray were partly restored, Ethio Telecom said on Wednesday.

The state-run company said it was using alternative power sources and repairing network damage. Reconnected towns included Dansha, Humera and Mai Kadra, all controlled by the military.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory after Mekelle’s fall over the weekend, as TPLF leaders fled for the hills.

On Wednesday, he shifted focus to next year’s parliamentary election, meeting with political parties and election officials about the mid-2021 vote, his office said.

His government postponed it this year due to COVID-19, but Tigray went ahead anyway and re-elected the TPLF, a guerrilla movement-turned-political party.

That defiance was one reason for the federal government’s military offensive against TPLF leaders, a conflict that may jeopardize political reforms since Abiy took office in 2018.

Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader at 44 who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for a pact with Eritrea, was pictured in battle fatigues meeting military officers in photos tweeted by his official photographer on Wednesday.

He took Ethiopia’s top job after nearly three decades of a TPLF-led national government, which had become increasingly repressive, jailing opponents and banning opposition parties.

Abiy removed Tigrayans from government and security posts, saying they were over-represented for an ethnic group accounting for just 6% of Ethiopia’s population. The military went in when a federal army base was ambushed in Tigray.

ADDIS ABABA BLAST

The TPLF casts their former military comrade and partner in government as bent on dominating them to increase his personal grip over the vast nation of 115 million people, which is split into 10 regions run by different ethnic groups.

Abiy, who hails from the larger Oromo and Amharic ethic groups, calls the Tigrayan leaders criminals opposing national unity and plotting attacks in Addis Ababa and elsewhere.

Federal police blamed the TPLF, without offering proof, for a small blast in the capital on Wednesday that injured an officer lightly. There was no immediate response from the TPLF.

There has been little verifiable information from Mekelle, the highland city of 500,000 people, since it fell on Saturday.

TPLF leaders say they are continuing to fight from surrounding mountainous areas.

“Wars are not like taps that you turn on and then turn off. This is going to be a very long, drawn-out process,” Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi told an online forum.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis in Nairobi, Maggie Fick in Istanbul; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Tim Cocks; Editing by Maggie Fick and Alison Williams)

U.S. manufacturing near two-year high; road ahead difficult

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. manufacturing activity accelerated more than expected in October, with new orders jumping to their highest level in nearly 17 years amid a shift in spending toward goods like motor vehicles and food as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

The survey on Monday from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) was the last piece of major economic data before Tuesday’s bitterly contested presidential election. But the outlook for manufacturing is challenging.

While the coronavirus crisis has boosted demand for goods complementing the pandemic life, a resurgence in new cases across the country could lead to authorities re-imposing restrictions to slow the spread of the respiratory illness as winter approaches, which could crimp activity. Government money for businesses and workers hit by the pandemic, which boosted economic growth in the third quarter, has dried up.

“Manufacturing rebounded strongly with fewer restrictions on economic activity and stimulus efforts, but the path forward will be more difficult as the economy continues to cope with the pandemic,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The ISM said its index of national factory activity increased to a reading of 59.3 last month. That was the highest since November 2018 and followed a reading of 55.4 in September.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 11.3% of the U.S. economy. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index rising to 55.8 in October.

The jump in activity, however, likely overstates the health of the manufacturing sector. A report from the Federal Reserve last month showed output at factories dropping 0.3% in September and remaining 6.4% below its pre-pandemic level.

Manufacturers and suppliers said last month they “continue to operate in reconfigured factories” and with every month were “becoming more proficient at expanding output.”

Though sentiment among manufacturers remained upbeat, there were two positive comments for every cautious comment, a slight decrease compared to September.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote is expected to lead to a brief period of uncertainty. President Donald Trump is trailing former Vice President and Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, in national opinion polls.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher following their steepest weekly loss. The dollar was steady against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

NEW ORDERS SURGE

Fifteen industries, including apparel, food, furniture and transportation equipment reported growth last month. Textile mills and printing reported a contraction.

Manufacturing’s continued recovery will likely keep the economy floating, with growth expected to slow sharply in the fourth quarter after a historic 33.1% annualized rate of expansion in the July-September period.

Growth last quarter, which followed a record 31.4% pace of contraction in the April-June quarter, was juiced up by more than $3 trillion in government pandemic relief. There is no deal in sight for another round of fiscal stimulus.

A separate report from the Commerce Department on Monday showed construction spending rose a moderate 0.3% in September, slowing after a 0.8% increase in August.

The coronavirus crisis has pulled spending away from services towards goods that complement the changed life-style. Spending on goods has surpassed its pre-pandemic level.

Makers of chemical products reported “business continues to be robust.” Food manufacturers said they had “increased production due to stores stocking up for the second wave of COVID-19.” Manufacturers of computer and electronic products said the coronavirus continued “to have an effect on supplier support and operations, more from a decreased labor perspective rather than unavailable material.”

The ISM’s forward-looking new orders sub-index surged to a reading of 67.9 last month, the highest reading since January 2004, from 60.2 in September. Customers’ inventories remained too low for the 49th straight month and order backlogs steadily increased, which bodes well for future production.

“On the upside, social distancing efforts, which have been a factor in consumers pivoting spending away from services and toward goods, is showing no signs of abating, especially as virus case counts are surging again,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“This shift to goods spending should continue to underpin orders, but is unlikely to go on with the same muster as it did earlier when an initial flurry of spending on manufactured goods aimed at setting up at-home offices and remote classrooms boosted goods spending.”

With orders booming, manufacturing employment expanded for the first time since July 2019. The ISM’s manufacturing employment gauge rose to a reading of 53.2 from 49.6 in September. That likely supported overall job growth in October.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 700,000 jobs last month after rising 661,000 in September. Employment growth has cooled from a record 4.781 million in June. About 11.5 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered.

The government is scheduled to publish October’s employment report on Friday.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani,; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Lockdown, leftovers and how food frugality is a climate boon

By Christopher Walljasper and Nigel Hunt

CHICAGO/LONDON (Reuters) – Clint Parry ransacked every kitchen cupboard and scoured all corners of his fridge during lockdown in Detroit, hunting for lost ingredients and leftovers to whip up meals.

The 33-year-old is one of many people across the world to have embraced thriftiness and cut down on food waste during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts. They say the new habits, if maintained, will provide a major boost in tackling another global crisis: climate change.

“We are using virtually all of our leftovers, where we used to waste food because we would forget to pack it and just pick up fast food on a lunch break,” said Parry, who is married and works as a master model builder at Legoland in Michigan.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a third of the world’s food is wasted every year. Forests are cleared, fuel is burnt and packaging in produced just to provide food which is thrown away. Meanwhile, rotting food in landfills releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

As a result, food waste is responsible for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a similar amount to road transportation.

“The next crisis will be the climate crisis and the best thing you can do as a consumer is reduce food waste,” said Toine Timmermans, program manager for sustainable food chains at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Household food waste in Britain, to take one country, fell significantly in the early phase of the lockdown in April with just 14% of four key items – bread, chicken, milk and potatoes – thrown away, according to research by environmental group WRAP, which conducted thousands of interviews.

Pre-lockdown, an average of 24% had been wasted.

Waste had begun to rebound by June, with a second WRAP survey putting waste of those products at 18%, but remained significantly below pre-lockdown levels.

“Although people are reporting wasting more food as restrictions lift … the positive news is that 70% of people want to maintain their new-found food management behaviors in the long term,” said Richard Swannell, director at WRAP Global which works with governments to reduce food waste.

“This is an encouraging sign that people are taking this opportunity to adopt less wasteful habits in life after lockdown.”

PLAN MORE, COOK MORE

Food security has been a major concern during the pandemic as consumers panic-bought basic goods, migrant workers struggled to get to the fields, meat-packing plants shut, and farm goods produced for shuttered restaurants rotted.

But the lower household food waste has been one bright spot.

Out of necessity, consumers have become more organized in planning menus, developed new cooking skills, checked their cupboards and fridges more before they shop and found better ways to use up leftovers, according to food waste experts.

“What people have been forced to do during the pandemic is plan ahead because they’re now shopping less frequently,” said Dana Gunders, executive director at ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing wasted food across the United States.

“They’re being forced to cook more and build those cooking skills.”

Laura Brooks, a stay-at-home mother of five in Weymouth, Massachusetts, said she had developed useful habits during the lockdown that she would keep.

“I think as things go back to normal, I may continue with less frequent shopping trips. When I go more often, I find that the new produce pushes the old produce out of sight and things get wasted more easily,” she added.

Increased frugality could prove a valuable habit in the economic and unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic; Gunders said a family of four in the United States was estimated to throw out food worth about $1,800 a year.

TOO GOOD FOR THE BIN

A survey from Germany’s Food and Agriculture Ministry also showed consumers had started to show more concern about wasting food during the coronavirus crisis.

The government had launched an anti-food waste campaign called “Too good for the bin” before the crisis, urging the public not to automatically throw food away after the sell-by date but to smell and taste it to see if it was still in good condition.

The ministry’s survey, undertaken during the pandemic, found that 91% of German consumers questioned were now checking food after its sell-by date and not automatically throwing it away.

This compared to only 76% in a similar survey in 2016.

Food waste is not restricted to the home but it is the biggest source in many countries.

The European Union has published a study estimating that 53% of food waste was in households and 11% in production, with the balance in areas such as processing and retailing.

China’s President Xi Jingping said this month that the amount of food wasted in China was “shocking”, prompting many local governments to launch related campaigns.

For Parry in Detroit, and many others, thrift is here to stay.

“Our food costs have definitely gone way down, since we are not buying out when we have perfectly consumable leftovers in the fridge at home,” he said.

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper and Nigel Hunt; Editing by Veronica Brown and Pravin Char)

Three of ten Americans laid off in coronavirus crisis worried about food, shelter: Reuters/Ipsos poll

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three of 10 Americans who lost work during the coronavirus pandemic said they may have trouble paying for food or housing after a $600-per-week enhanced unemployment payment expired last month, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

The poll conducted Monday and Tuesday found that Americans divide blame for its expiration – and the weeks-long standoff in Congress over how to replace it – pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The $600 weekly payments, approved as part of a $3 trillion package that Congress approved early in the crisis, became a lifeline for the tens of millions of Americans thrown out of work in a pandemic that has prompted widespread business closures.

It expired on July 31, and weeks of talks between top congressional Democrats and the White House failed to produce agreement on a new round of funding. Republican President Donald Trump on Saturday signed a memorandum aimed at restoring half that federal payment, though economists wanted that even if the maneuver overcomes possible legal challenges, it will likely have little impact.

The poll was conducted amid a surge of coronavirus cases in many states and as the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections draw closer.

Three out of 10 people surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos reported that they will have “a very difficult time meeting basic needs,” which includes paying for rent or buying groceries. Half said they are under some stress “but we will be able to meet our basic needs.”

The poll found that Americans blame negotiators on both sides of the partisan divide for the government’s inability to extend benefits for those who have been struggling to manage during the pandemic. Twenty-eight percent of American adults said congressional Democrats should receive most of the blame, while 15% said they blame congressional Republicans and another 14% said Trump was most at fault. Thirty-two percent said all share the blame equally.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,215 U.S. adults, including 139 who said they had received the weekly coronavirus unemployment benefit. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

‘Schools are survival’: U.S. coronavirus closures put homeless students at risk

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For U.S. student Samantha Kinney, high school is about more than education: It has also given her a support network, a sense of accomplishment — and, at times, even access to daily necessities like food and hygiene products.

Kinney, 18, has dealt with homelessness and housing instability for years, including a time when she lived out of a car with her parents and dropped out of school altogether.

She currently lives with relatives in Kansas City, Missouri – having not seen her parents in a few years – and has restarted school, where she has found a surprisingly nurturing community.

“There were even times when families would ‘adopt’ me for Christmas, when they would buy me gifts before break,” Kinney told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown that support system into flux.

Like most schools across the country, Kinney’s school is closed, probably through the end of the school year in June, leaving students in unstable housing situations without the everyday help they rely on, warn homelessness groups.

For many students, those closures have removed a key source of stability, safety, access to food and other resources, as well as the opportunity to gain the skills or a job that could secure their future.

“Schools are survival for children experiencing homelessness,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit that works on the issue nationally.

“Now that schools aren’t there, and the organizations that schools referred (homeless students) to are closing down or short-staffed, a lot of the most vulnerable populations are more likely to fall through the cracks,” she said.

Kinney is one of at least 1.5 million homeless public school students across the country, according to federal statistics released in January for the 2017-2018 school year, the latest available.

That figure is a record high, according to SchoolHouse Connection, up 11% in just a year, and includes a doubling of the number of students in “unsheltered” situations, such as living in cars or on the street.

Those who work with homeless students worry that the pandemic will have an outsized impact on many of them, now and into the future.

More than 90% of schools in the United States have been affected by closures to some degree due to the pandemic, according to trade publication Education Week.

So far, Kinney said she is coping with the changes. She has a computer and stable internet connection at her relatives’ house, and has stayed on top of her studies.

Still, the high school senior said she feels the disruption even more starkly than her peers, including the possible cancellation of landmark events such as prom and a formal graduation.

“I really wanted the satisfaction of being able to walk across that stage and being handed my diploma,” she said.

SOURCE OF STABILITY

Schools have long played a critical, but poorly recognized, role in helping homeless students in the United States, said social workers and activists.

As well as providing homeless students with an education, many public schools “offer other basic supports, including showers, laundry, and even clothing,” said Matt Smith of Washington state’s Homeless Student Stability Program.

But Dana Bailey, chief operating officer at nonprofit Homeless Youth Connection in Avondale, Arizona, said that homeless youths are more likely to drop out of school – and that the coronavirus outbreak has “turned our organization upside-down”.

In Arizona, schools started closing on March 16 for what was going to be two weeks, but has been extended to the rest of the school year.

During the first few weeks of the closure, Bailey and her colleagues focused on the immediate needs of the nearly 290 students they work with.

For students who usually get food through schools, the group dropped off groceries or gift cards that can be used for food and other supplies.

Then, as the schools prepared to start remote learning, Homeless Youth Connection began trying to source essentials like computers and internet hotspots for students who didn’t have them.

“Our students come into our program with no stability,” said Kayla McCullough, a program manager at the non-profit.

“They don’t have what we think of as a home, housing is temporary, food is unreliable and family members are overburdened by trauma caused by homelessness.”

Students who face problems at home are often safer at school, McCullough said.

“If there’s any danger at home, they get to escape that by going to school … It’s a light at the end of the tunnel for many,” she said.

Some community advocates say the public fear surrounding the pandemic is exacerbating homelessness issues, sometimes resulting in people being kicked out of their living situation.

“We’re starting to hear from (homeless) parents that there’s fear on the part of their hosts, (who are) saying, ‘You’ve been here for six months, and I’m too scared to have you’,” said Debra Albo-Steiger, a director at the Project UP-START homeless programme in Miami’s public school system.

DORMS SHUTTERED

School closures don’t affect only younger students: As colleges and universities across the country have shut classrooms and dorms, many have been confronted with students who have nowhere else to go.

Nearly half of college students are housing insecure, and 16% are homeless, according to Marissa Meyers, a researcher with the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Amid the pandemic, “colleges and universities don’t know what to do — they’re paralyzed,” she said, with most seeing major holes opening in their budgets.

Colleges and universities are projecting a $23 billion decline in revenue next school year due to the coronavirus-related drop in enrolment, according to the American Council on Education industry group.

The federal government recently allotted $14 billion to struggling colleges and universities, half of which must be used to help students pay for things like food, housing, school materials and health care.

Some schools have found a way to keep some of their dorms open for students, at least temporarily.

Middle Tennessee State University spokesman Jimmy Hart said the school has made exceptions for those who can’t go anywhere else, including international students and those without reliable internet connections at home.

Berea College in Kentucky, which caters solely to low-income students, is also maintaining housing for about 150 students who could not vacate, according to president Lyle Roelofs.

“No student who had no home to go to or another viable option was asked to leave campus,” he said in emailed comments.

Yet Roelofs expressed concern about the longer-term effects of coronavirus-related closures, particularly for poor students.

“My larger fear is that … the extra curveballs they are facing as a result of the pandemic may seriously degrade their already discouraging prospects,” he said

That’s a sentiment expressed by many, at all levels of schooling.

“We know (the pandemic) isn’t just affecting health, but also our economy,” said Dana Bailey of Homeless Youth Connection.

Ahead of the next school year, she said, “we’re already anticipating a greater number of students needing our services”.

(Reporting by Carey L. Biron, Editing by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Cubans cast aside coronavirus fears to search for scarcer food

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – From the seafront capital Havana to the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains, Cubans are defying fear of the new coronavirus to search for food as global trade disruptions worsen shortages of basic goods on the Caribbean island.

Residents of all ages are trudging from store to store in the country to locate scarce goods despite recommendations from health experts to stay at home and respect social distancing guidelines to avoid contracting the highly contagious disease.

Communist-run Cuba imports more than 60% of its food, but the pandemic has forced its government to close the borders, denying it the hard currency from tourism needed to pay for goods from overseas. The leisure industry accounts for 25% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

With shortages biting, many residents are using apps to swarm shops when coveted products arrive – from chicken and cheese to powdered milk and tomato sauce – creating long lines on the streets of Havana where police attempt to keep order.

While Cuba has faced scattered shortages ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union began in 1989, they have worsened since a decline in aid from socialist ally Venezuela and a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Now they are intensifying as the pandemic compounds Cuba’s cash crunch and disrupts international trade and food prices.

“There is a queue for everything, products are scarce,” Havana resident Luis Alberto said as he waited in a line for chicken that stretched for more than 100 meters (330 ft).

Since the first coronavirus cases were logged on the island last month, authorities have closed the borders to people and called on Cubans to only go out if strictly necessary, always wearing face masks. Disinfectant has been included on the ration cards that residents use to obtain goods.

“No one is walking around except the family doctor and nurse,” Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser, said from a medium-sized town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Granma province.

“But when some ground meat finally arrived the other day everyone emerged from their homes in masks and lined up with a policeman keeping order,” she said.

A soldier organizes a line of people to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

‘PERFECT STORM BREWING’

President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently warned citizens they would be consuming less imported food “due to the current situation.”

When ships arrived last week with corn and rice, it was big news in the state-run media.

Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or other multilateral lending institutions it could turn to for emergency funds.

Economy Minister Alejandro Gil has said the only solution is to “find in agriculture the main source of food for the people” but the sector is suffering an intensifying lack of inputs – like fertilizer and pesticides – partly due to U.S. sanctions.

“There is a perfect storm brewing. By May, the food situation here will be much worse,” a local agricultural expert said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.

FOOD PRODUCTION IN TROUBLE

Cuba is famous for fighting epidemics and infamous for its centralized and unproductive Soviet-style agricultural system long since jettisoned by other Communist-run countries.

Many express faith in the former and not the latter.

“Cuba has the virus under control and I am sure it will stay that way,” said Emandez Maseo, a teacher in eastern Cuba. “At the same time, we are going into a critical situation, there is nothing in the markets and it is getting worse.”

Cuba has reported 396 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths, all but a few linked to travelers entering from abroad.

Much of the economy not related to tourism remains open, but it is hard to see agricultural production making up for lower imports.

Just 40% of normal fuel supplies and even less fertilizer and pesticides were used for the winter crop, according to the government. Planting began before the pandemic in November and harvesting ended in March.

The government has not reported on the results of Cuba’s most important growing season. Agriculture ministry official Yojan García Rodas told local radio that farmers were able to plant less than half the planned acreage of beans – a local staple – because they had to use oxen to till the land due to lack of fuel.

Speaking about a plague that wiped out much of the crop, Rodas said only 15% of the 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) planted could be protected by chemical pesticides.

Luis Enrique Plutin, a farmer working the fields under a hot sun with fellow cooperative members on the outskirts of Havana, was phlegmatic.

“Through sacrifice and work we can produce something, but not much, for the population,” he said. “And we can continue to produce more, but imagine the difficulties we have.”

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

Target says shoppers stocking up on essentials over coronavirus fears

Target says shoppers stocking up on essentials over coronavirus fears
(Reuters) – Target Corp said on Tuesday it was seeing a surge in U.S. store traffic as people stockpile disinfectants and food amid fears of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve certainly seen a U.S. consumer that’s starting to stock up on household essentials, disinfectants, food and beverage items, all those staple items that the CDC has recommended…,” Chief Executive Brian Cornell said on a post-earnings call with analysts.

“We’ve seen aggressive shopping across the country in our stores.”

However, the company said the epidemic has not so far impacted its business.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)