CRE Takes on COVID-19 Food Insecurity

In response to economic hardship, commercial real estate companies from coast to coast are focusing on providing food to people in need.

Since the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, some 42.6 million workers have filed jobless claims. That economic disruption is making food security a top priority for the industry’s response from coast to coast.

“The commercial real estate industry is uniquely positioned to make a difference, as it is comprised of a broad community of tenants, stakeholders, owners and brokers in a cross section of industries, from hospitality to industrial,” noted Matt Root, CEO of Parallel Capital Partners, a San Diego-based investor-operator.

Many of Parallel Capital’s team members have relationships with local nonprofits, and when those professionals were asked to recommend charities, “all responded that we should work with the local food banks,” Root told Commercial Property Executive. The company has donated $30,000 to distributors in its six primary markets, which include Dallas, San Diego, Long Beach, Calif., Orange County, Calif., Phoenix and Honolulu. Most food banks can distribute four to eight meals for every dollar donated, and that adds up to some 150,000 people served, Root added.

Since NewMark Merrill launched its Wave of Kindness program in April, the Los Angeles-based retail owner and manager has raised more than $50,000 for multiple initiatives. The firm recently provided 2,620 meals to frontline workers at 17 health-care facilities in California, Colorado and Illinois. During its first phase in April, Wave of Kindness assisted 380 families through a program which zeroes out grocery receipts.

It’s never enough,” said Sandy Sigal, NewMark Merrill’s founder & CEO. You set budgets and you make a difference, but you have got to keep pushing forward.

Helping in Houston

NewMark Merrill’s Waves of Kindness initiative zeroes out grocery receipts for families in need and provides meals for frontline COVID-19 responders. Image courtesy of NewMark Merrill

An estimated 2.75 million people in Houston are food-insecure, up from 1.1 million before the pandemic. In response, CenterPoint Properties is stepping up its longtime support for the Houston Food Bank by providing much-needed warehousing space to help distribute food in 18 Texas counties. The nonprofit is using a 124,000-square-foot facility at 8530 Market St. to receive shipments from the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

The additional warehouse space is critical to ensuring smooth operations, reports Houston Food Bank President & CEO Brian Greene. The organization is serving 128,000 households each week and distributing as much as 1 million pounds of food per day, double pre-COVID volume.

The New York City metropolitan region was an early hotbed of COVID-19 infections and has generated a surge of initiatives. RXR Realty is addressing food insecurity through two programs. The owner-operator’s RXR Volunteer matches employees, partners and volunteers with non-profits and small businesses to provide support in such areas as applying for SBA funds and marketing. More than 200 participants are currently processing 60 requests for assistance.

One beneficiary was a food truck business in Glen Cove, N.Y., a New York City suburb in Nassau County on Long Island’s North Shore. The team helped convert the business into a mobile delivery operation, with an online website and a digital point-of-sale solution.

A new initiative, the RXR COVID Relief Fund, provides grants to small businesses and nonprofits in New Rochelle, N.Y., a city in Westchester County where RXR is leading downtown redevelopment. The fund awarded $200,000 to NourishALL, which distributes restaurant gift cards to address food insecurity and support small businesses. Two other nonprofits and a city agency each received $50,000 grants.

Seeds of Generosity

Workers ready meals on launch day for Food1st, a new nonprofit started by SL Green Realty. Image courtesy of SL Green

A recurring theme in real estate companies’ food relief efforts is tailoring programs to the constituencies they serve. Seniors are the focus of a program sponsored by the Arker Cos. and its property management firm, Progressive Management, which oversees 5,500 affordable housing units in New York City. Residents in hard-hit neighborhoods are receiving free meals and pantry bags in collaboration with nonprofit partners. At most recent report, the program had provided some 3,700 individual food deliveries.

To aid food-insecure New York City residents, SL Green Realty Corp. took the step of launching a brand-new nonprofit. In April, the office REIT seeded the program, dubbed Food1st, with a $1 million grant. By mid-May, the organization had attracted contributions from 400-plus individuals and companies.

The mission of Food1st is to deliver meals to frontline responders and medical personnel, the elderly, and food-insecure families. Beneficiaries include The Bowery Mission, a 141-year-old faith-based charity; World Central Kitchen, founded by the chef José Andrés; and several of New York City’s leading hospitals. As an added benefit, the program aids the city’s struggling restaurant industry by reactivating kitchens and bringing staff safely back to work.

Jesse Harty, senior vice president and market officer at Prologis and a NAIOP New Jersey board member, has donated $100,000 to Community FoodBank of New Jersey this year, according to Michael McGuinness, CEO of NAIOP New Jersey. The chapter has also launched a campaign to raise $100,000 for the organization and recently donated $5,000 to Fulfill Food Bank of NJ.

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