Over the last three years, Amazon has applied its logistics and computing expertise to coordinate donations and delivery of needed items to communities hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
In recent months, the company has put its disaster relief expertise to work addressing the “everyday disaster” of the pandemic, and the economic devastation and food insecurity that has spread in its wake, said Bettina Stix, who heads Disaster Relief by Amazon.
When her team began working from home in early March, Stix said they immediately began thinking about ways to help people who cannot afford food, and, with the virus spreading, could no longer safely access food banks, which themselves have been overwhelmed by demand and strapped for resources.
Stix asked Amazon’s operations team if the company’s contract delivery drivers could be dispatched to help make deliveries from food banks. She compared short-term limitations on movement in the aftermath of a hurricane to the ongoing difficulties experienced during the pandemic, with reduced public transportation and safety concerns, particularly for vulnerable populations.
Since then, Amazon Flex drivers have delivered some 6 million meals from food banks and school district kitchens in 25 cities around the world. The company says it plans to make a million more meal deliveries through August.
In Seattle, Amazon Flex drivers pick up packages of 14 meals prepared by Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Nutrition Services from Denny International Middle School in Delridge and distribute them directly to the homes of students who are medically fragile, have disabilities or are experiencing homelessness. Amazon delivers food boxes to about 390 families each day, on average. More than 1,800 SPS students are participating in the program.
“They’re experts at what they do, and to channel that into something like meal delivery to help our students and families is fantastic,” SPS spokesman Tim Robinson said of Amazon.
While the shape of the school year remains in flux with last week’s recommendation by SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau that students continue learning from home in the fall, Amazon plans to continue the deliveries for “the foreseeable future,” Stix said.
Amazon has previously supported food programs at other school districts through the nonprofit No Kid Hungry campaign. The company’s support for SPS includes an emergency relief fund begun in late 2018, which some students’ families have used for food relief, utility payments or medical bills, Stix said. Amazon also donated some 8,200 Chromebook laptop computers to the district to help equip elementary students for remote learning.
The Amazon Flex deliveries are one of several ways SPS has worked to keep students fed in the months since school buildings closed in early March. Other programs from the Backpack Brigade, FareStart and the district itself — including one that sent meals to students delivered by school buses — have helped feed thousands of families across the city.
Robinson said the district has provided more than 1.2 million meals, including nearly 318,000 distributed by Amazon.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, whose wealth has increased some $64 billion along with Amazon’s surging stock price so far this year, committed $100 million of his own fortune in April to Chicago-based Feeding America, a food bank network. That donation — while not his only philanthropy — amounts to about 0.05% of Bezos’ fortune, estimated to be $179 billion on Monday by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
U.S. billionaires as a group have seen their wealth increase $755 billion between March 18 and July 23, according to Inequality.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank. More than 52.4 million people made initial claims for unemployment during that time period.
An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about its spending on the food delivery programs, or its total corporate contributions to pandemic relief.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the number of students and families receiving meals from SPS delivered by Amazon.
Amazon supports The Seattle Times through the Education Lab project.