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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

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Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.