Food banks all over the U.S. are running out of supplies in recent weeks, due to the increased demands amid the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to people being out of work and seeking aid where they can get it, many food banks are reportedly seeing a sharp decrease in donations from grocery stores and farms, as people are buying up supplies more readily for themselves.
Food banks are a vital resource for people around the country to provide for their families, but according to a report by NBC News, many of them are under-supplied. The national nonprofit Feeding America found that in mid-March, 64 percent of its affiliated food banks had received decreased donations, while 92 percent were seeing increased need. At the same time, COVID-19 — the coronavirus — is forcing food banks to operate with fewer volunteers and less person-to-person contact.
As an example of the problem, reporters spoke to Brian Barks, CEO of Food Bank for the Heartland, which helps supply food banks all over Nebraska and western Iowa. Barks noted that his organization typically spends about $73,000 per month on food, but in March, it spent $675,000. Barks also drew attention to the precarious situation for volunteers — many of whom are seniors and are especially susceptible to the virus.
"One of the huge concerns that we have here, is that many of the pantries that receive food from food banks are operated by seniors. And when those seniors say, 'You know what? I'm not going to risk it anymore,' those pantries close. Then what do you do? That is where approximately 70 percent of our food goes, through a network of pantries," he said.
Food banks are attempting to adapt to the pandemic with low-contact food distribution methods, which are still a work in progress. Last Saturday, Feeding San Diego held an emergency drive-thru distribution in the SDCCU Stadium parking lot, with lines of 14 vehicles at a time packed in to pick up boxes of produce and nonperishable food. Supplies ran out in about an hour, with around 1,200 vehicles served.
"We're seeing as much as a 40 percent to 50 percent increase in demand at individual distribution locations," said Feeding San Diego CEO Vince Hall. "Many of the people that we're seeing have never before sought food assistance. Many of them aren't even sure what the process is. We get lots of very fundamental questions: 'Do I qualify? Is there somebody more deserving than me?'"
Hall explained that his organization is also buying more food than ever, with donations at a shocking low point. In the second half of March, Feeding San Diego bought more food than it would normally buy in a full year. Hall added: "Whatever constellation of economic factors comes to bear on them, they went from having a middle-class life to being in need of hunger relief services in a snap of a finger. And so that is all creating complex challenges for the food distribution system."