Demand for food assistance has surged this year as many people have lost their jobs.
The Schultz Family Foundation, which was started by former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz and his wife, Sheri, has created something called the Washington COVID Response Corps to employ young people to work on addressing food insecurity.
The foundation is funding 125 positions for young people to serve in the AmeriCorps program specifically working on hunger relief in Washington.
Anya Gavrylko is one of them. She’s 20 years old and taking a year off from the University of Washington. Through this program, she’s working for United Way of King County delivering meals to children in low-income housing communities. She said she’s interested in going into urban planning as a career and this work has given her a chance to think about long-term policy solutions.
“It’s just been interesting to see what systems we have now. You can’t really change them right now when you’re in the crisis — you just have to do what you can to help people, but moving forward, thinking about, 'OK, what can we do to strengthen our food system?” she said.
Foundation president Tyra Mariani said the organization is investing about $1.7 million in this program. Young people in the Washington COVID Response Corps receive a stipend that varies by region, but Mariani said it ranges from about $17,000 to about $25,000, as well as roughly $6,000 for college.
Mariani said in addition to addressing the pressing need of food insecurity during the pandemic, the program aims to help young people find meaningful work.
“We know, for example, that service tends to make a lasting impact on young people’s career choices,” she said. “They’re actually more likely than their peers to go into community and social service occupations, for one, and then they gain valuable experience.”
Mariani said the foundation is paying a higher stipend than the regular AmeriCorps program in an effort to attract young people from lower income backgrounds.
Hannah Gauntz is 24 years old and also working with the COVID Response Corps for United Way of King County. She returned from serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco last year, then had difficulty finding a job once the pandemic hit. Gauntz said she’s grateful to have found this work, which she said helps her feel like she’s making a difference at a time when people are in need.
“There’s a lot of people out there really struggling, so I’m really grateful that I have the skills and abilities and am in a position where I can do my part and help out,” Gauntz said.