The Lagos Food Bank: Tackling Hunger and Food Security in the Pandemic

In this interview with Michael Sunbola, President of Lagos Food Bank, we see firsthand the power of passion and vision in a Nonprofit’s operations, plus how they succeeded in inspiring thousands in Nigeria during the pandemic

How did the Lagos Food Bank come into being?

Growing up in a family of five children, with parents who did not have a steady means of income, the Founder, Michael Sunbola was exposed to hunger, an experience which opened his eyes to an endemic problem in society: the food needs of the impoverished. In response to this, he founded the Lagos Food Bank in 2015, a nutrition-focused initiative committed to fighting hunger, reducing food waste, and solving the problem of malnutrition through targeted programs and grassroots efforts – collecting food and cash donations for onward redistribution to the underserved in the society.

Lagos Food Bank Initiative is the first indigenous food bank in Nigeria. From 16 volunteers in 2015, the organization now has over 11,000 registered volunteers in its database, with a reach of 1.5 million people in 120 underserved communities. LFB seeks to act as a front-line agency assisting those struggling with malnutrition and hunger across the country, and act as a food warehouse with branches in all local governments in Lagos while partnering with other agencies that assist people in need.

As a social innovation Nonprofit, how has the pandemic affected your work and the organization?

We responded to the Covid-19 pandemic swiftly by launching the Covid-19 Emergency Food Intervention Plan (CEFIP) on the 23rd of March to support vulnerable women, children, and families suffering the economic impact of COVID-19.

An exponential increase in the number of beneficiaries recorded led to an increase in demand for food assistance from the beginning of March. This led us to expand our capacity by conducting community outreaches 3 times a week as against our monthly outreaches before the pandemic. Movement restrictions also affected operations because 60% of the food items were sourced directly from local markets while 40% were food donations from partners.

We operated by modifying our food distribution models in line with the government’s directives; walk-in beneficiaries were scheduled in batches at the food bank, while mobile pantry services were carried out distributing food items from house-to-house, serving out-of-school children and the elderly. Sensitization campaigns in communities on COVID-19 prevention were also integral in our community food distribution. Food packages were slightly adjusted to ensure beneficiaries were provided the best possible i52+mmune response to COVID -19, with personal protective items also included.

Because of our efforts, we have gotten recognized by international media organizations, sealed valuable partnerships with various local and international brands during this period, our donor base increased significantly from covering 25% of our monthly budget to over 80% of our monthly budget, and we had about 120 corporate brands partner with us during the CEFIP program.

Lagos Food Bank seemed well-positioned to step in during the pandemic, how were you able to pull off collaborations?

We improved our calls for donations to attract more donors and partners by reaching out to food processing companies, corporate organizations, and individuals. Over 120 reputable brands came through for us, of which we have maintained continued partnerships to date. We recorded a total of 700 individual donors and 120 corporate brands. We have been as transparent as possible to the public and stakeholders. Partnerships with these big brands would have been impossible without our five-year track record of goodwill and yearly publication of reports and finances.

What are tips that helped you especially with volunteer retention & management?

As an essential humanitarian service, we had to scale-up our operations and go the extra mile to reach out to impacted communities and so we sent out requests for new volunteers to boost capacity and had our volunteer strength increase by 60% during this period. We ensured that we created a letter of exemption for smooth operations and access to us without hitches.

During each outreach, we ensured volunteers were evenly distributed and engaged throughout the process.  We also put control measures in place to ensure that our volunteers and team are protected when supplying PPE materials to isolation centers and the needed foodstuffs and relief materials to these communities. Our volunteers showcased resilience and took advantage of this time to make a great impact in the state.

Lagos Food Bank is linked to other initiatives, how are they interconnected?

Our Nutritious Meal Plan Intervention for Vulnerable mothers and Children (NUMEPLAN) addresses malnutrition and food insecurity among pregnant women and their infants. The project works with Primary Health Care Centers (PHCs) in Local Government Areas of under-served communities and ensures that they adopt and implement effective nutrition education programs effectively. About 5,000 women have benefitted from the food bank’s Nutrition Education Programs (NEPs).

The organization also runs a school feeding program called Education and Nutrition Enhancement Intervention for Food Insecure Students (EDUFOOD), reaching 250 children daily. The program seeks to improve the nutritional status and health of food-insecure students in low-cost private schools, geared towards increasing school attendance, reducing dropout rates, and increasing the children’s ability to concentrate and comprehend in class.

The Family Farming Program was designed to protect and expand the economic capacity of women through family farming as well as to develop the essential contribution of women to agriculture. Over 300 women have been trained in micro-farming. The Nutrition Intervention for Diabetes Self-management (NIDS), for indigent adults living with diabetes, enables low-income communities as well as Primary Health Care Centers (PHCs) to adopt and implement effective nutritional education programs and affordable meal plans understand how adequate nutritional intake is essential to maintain sound health by ensuring proper glycemic control.

Within the Job Placement Program, a team of Human Resource practitioners collate basic skills of beneficiaries and design them into a Curriculum Vitae which is digitally advertised to corporate organizations and start-up businesses through the food bank’s social media and email marketing platforms. Interested companies ask for the needed skill, and so far, we have provided jobs for over 100 beneficiaries (mostly women) this way.

The food bank has reached thousands of people by positively influencing social dimensions, individual beliefs, and mindsets on health and well-being in relation to eating habits, food beliefs, food taboos, and nutritional mindsets.

The food bank has also influenced and increased the awareness and commitment of nutrition among community leaders, social and political leaders, and families.

Our special thanks to the Lagos Food Bank team for their responses that formed this feature.

Connect with The Lagos Food Bank on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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