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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Heightened demand for food banks has prompted vegans to organize, soliciting donations of non-animal products and setting up distribution channels for them.

Why it matters: As the pandemic persists, the number of people who are food-insecure remains alarmingly high — and any number of them may eschew animal products.

Driving the news: The "Las Vegan Food Pantry" — which started distributing boxes of fruits, vegetables, pastas and beans in December from an animal shelter in Las Vegas — has seen such overwhelming response that it's expanding operations and hours.

  • Organized by a vegan chef, it distributes up to 40 boxes every Saturday, each with enough for 1o meals.
  • People can sign up through the group's Facebook page, which has generated interest among food donors and volunteers.
  • “I’m an ethical vegan, so I don’t like the killing of the animals and the cruelty aspect of it,” Mindy Poortinga, the pantry's founder, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  • She went vegan six years ago, and wanted to pitch in at a food bank during the pandemic.
  • But “I didn’t want to volunteer at places where I’m handing out animal products that I’m not feeling good about.”

There are similar initiatives in other cities. In New York City, Chilis on Wheels delivers plant-based food to needy people in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In London, Ontario, the London Vegan Food Bank has been in operation since 2018.

  • “The day that we deliver the boxes to people, we get a lot of heartfelt messages on our social media, just expressing how grateful they are," Michael Edward, a founder of the Ontario group, told Global News, a Canadian outlet. "We’ve had messages where people say they have tears in their eyes,” he said.

The big picture: Many experts suspect the coronavirus first spread to people through a live animal market, and PETA makes the argument that going vegan "can help cut off the next pandemic at its source."

  • Its "Vegans for the vulnerable" initiative asks people to pick up extra plant-based foods items while grocery shopping and donate them to a pantry.
  • Together with Chipotle and Baskin-Robbins, PETA Latino has organized donations of vegan burritos and ice cream to frontline hospital workers in Chula Vista, California.

Of note: A vegan food bank in Bath, England sends the message that you don't have to be vegan to become a client.

  • “We’re open to anyone who declares they are financially suffering," its founder, Helen Wright, told SomersetLive, a U.K. news site.
  • “We currently run the food bank from home and are hoping to find some free premises to operate from."

Go deeper

Home confinees face imminent return to prison

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Thousands of prisoners who've been in home confinement for as long as a year because of the pandemic face returning to prison when it's over — unless President Biden rescinds a last-minute Trump Justice Department memo.

Why it matters: Most prisoners were told they would not have to come back as they were released early with ankle bracelets. Now, their lives are on hold while they wait to see whether or when they may be forced back behind bars. Advocates say about 4,500 people are affected.

The "essential" committee that still doesn't exist

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Nearly five months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the creation of the bipartisan Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, it's not been formed much less met.

Why it matters: Select committees are designed to address urgent matters, but the 117th Congress is now nearly one-quarter complete without this panel assembling. When she announced this committee, Pelosi described it as an "essential force" to "combat the crisis of income and wealth disparity in America."

Biden's ethics end-around for labor

President Biden surveys a water treatment plant during a visit to New Orleans today. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is excusing top officials from ethics rules that would otherwise restrict their work with large labor unions that previously employed them, federal records show.

Why it matters: Labor's sizable personnel presence in the administration is driving policy, and the president's appointment of top union officials to senior posts gives those unions powerful voices in the federal bureaucracy — even at the cost of strictly adhering to his own stringent ethics standards.