Making sure vulnerable residents have enough to eat during a pandemic

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Name: Paul Jones III

Title: Innovation Analyst

City: Detroit

When COVID-19 hit Detroit, tons of emergency food shipments began flowing into the city’s food pantries, churches, and other distribution networks. One of Paul Jones’ roles with the city’s innovation team was to research who the food was — and wasn’t — getting to. His analysis found large gaps, especially among residents who needed to isolate at home because they had tested positive for COVID, but who didn’t have friends or family nearby to bring them food.

Jones and his i-team colleagues partnered with several city agencies and outside groups to set up weekly food deliveries for this population. On Wednesdays, he’d work in the trenches of a complex operation packing up food boxes, loading them into volunteers’ cars, and making doorstep deliveries all across the city. Jones managed volunteer communications, to make sure they knew where they were going. The successful pilot served more than 100,000 meals to homebound residents. Earlier this month, the city’s Parks & Recreation Division announced it would continue and expand the program through December, using federal CARES Act funds.

For Jones, who’s now working part-time for the i-team while pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning, the experience demonstrated in the clearest way the impact innovation can have on peoples’ lives.

“I grew up here, I went to school here, and have always studied the city from a macro level, but seeing how this program helped people get through one of the most difficult times ever in the city really touched me,” he said. “These are people who are often not thought about when decisions get made. We were getting calls back from them telling us how much they appreciate it and how they feel like the city is really looking out for them.”

Pro tip: “It’s OK to lean on your team and ask for help. You have people on your team who are just as committed to this work as you are.”

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